An independent report by the energy regulator, EnergySafety, found the fire started when a wooden power pole, which had been damaged by termites and fungal rot, fell and ignited ground vegetation. Fifty-seven homes were destroyed and many more were damaged.
Kevin Banks-Smith, bushfire litigation consultant for Slater and Gordon, which is representing the claimants, said Western Power was trying to avoid responsibility for the fire by shifting the blame to the landowner.
“Our clients allege Western Power had a responsibility to ensure that it had adequate systems for the inspection, maintenance and replacement of wooden poles in its electricity network,” Mr Banks-Smith said.
“Western Power conveniently claims that its responsibility ended at the pole adjacent to the rotten pole which collapsed and caused the fire. We do not accept that the rotten pole was the landowner’s responsibility.
“On 19 July 2013, six months prior to the fire, contractors engaged by Western Power – Thiess Services Pty Ltd – conducted works on the rotten pole, and inspected it, but did not detect that it was extensively damaged by termites and fungal rot.
“The facts in this case provide another stark example of the disastrous outcomes that can occur when power authorities – and the contractors they engage – fail to do their jobs properly.”
Slater and Gordon commercial and project litigation lawyer Ben Hardwick said the firm’s clients allege Western Power and Thiess were duty bound to ensure the inspection of the rotten pole in July 2013 was carried out with appropriate levels of skill and care.
“If the inspection of the pole in July 2013 had been properly carried out, the large cavity in the centre of the pole would have been detected. Unfortunately, no such care was taken,” Mr Hardwick said.
“If proper systems were in place, the pole would have been repaired or replaced prior to the 2013-2014 summer season and the fire would never have occurred.
“Western Power is entrusted with responsibility for a significant portion of the State’s electricity network. The transmission of electricity is inherently dangerous and poses ongoing risks to the community – particularly of fire.
“In this case, Western Power did not do enough to protect the community and it should compensate residents for their losses.”
Local resident Andrea Becker said she lost everything in the fire and her insurance didn’t cover all of the damages.
“After the fire, I was literally left with nothing but the clothes on my back, my dog and my car,” she said.
“Family photos, my son’s belongings and other keepsakes – are all gone. All we have now is memories.
“With the insurance payout, I’ve been able to buy a smaller house in the same area, but it didn’t cover all of my losses. I’m still out of pocket.”