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A Ballarat lawyer says this week’s devastating Snake Valley grassfire should serve as a warning to people in rural communities that they can be held legally responsible if their poorly-maintained vehicles or farm equipment sparks fires.
Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Dan McGlade said suggestions that the fire responsible for the destruction of at least nine homes was caused by a spark emitted from a vehicle driving through dry vegetation highlighted the potential for defective machinery to cause fires.
“Regardless of whether these suggestions are proven correct, it is timely as we head into the hottest weeks of summer to remind people of the potential impact of operating equipment not fitted with spark arrestors or that have defective exhaust systems in dry rural environments,” Mr McGlade said.
He said anyone found to have accidentally started a fire in such circumstances could be sued for negligence under common law and be forced to compensate victims.
"These events invariably come at a very high cost to local communities and people need to know that if their negligence is responsible for a fire, they can be held responsible," Mr McGlade said.
Mr McGlade’s warning comes 14 months after electricity provider Powercor settled a $40 million class action brought by Black Saturday victims in the Horsham district after a live powerline fell into grassland and started a fire that destroyed local properties.
“It is important that everyone, particularly those in rural communities learns from these events and ensures that all of their equipment is safe and well maintained, Mr McGlade said.
“Everyone has a responsibility to make sure that they protect themselves and their neighbours from harm.”