Posted on 16 Jul 2018
The Parkerville bushfire class action trial run by Slater and Gordon Lawyers will begin today in the Supreme Court of Western Australia on behalf of 189 affected residents and property owners.
The 2014 blaze was sparked by a fallen power pole and swept across almost 400 hectares of bushland, destroying 57 homes and severely damaging many more in Parkerville, Stoneville and Mount Helena.
For the first time in a West Australian court, the proceedings will be live streamed on the internet and accessible by the general public via the Supreme Court website. Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Rory Walsh said the trial is expected to run for at least seven weeks and could have considerable public policy ramifications.
Watch the livestream here: http://player.cloud.wowza.com/hosted/z17snsll/player.html
“The evidence we will present during this trial will show that Western Australia has the largest risk of an electrical pole initiated bushfire in the entire country, by a considerable margin” Mr Walsh said.
“Western Power’s network of wooden power poles has aged rapidly and failure risks including rot and termite damage have caused a pole failure rate ten times that of other utilities.
“Alarmingly, that figure excludes poles on private property, which Western Australia does not inspect or maintain unlike every other bushfire-prone state in Australia.
“We will argue that the Parkerville blaze was not a natural accident that residents simply have to accept as an ordinary risk of living in a bushfire-prone region.”
Mr Walsh said the collapse of this power pole and the resulting bushfire was a foreseeable and avoidable risk that will continue to threaten other WA communities until maintenance standards are considerably improved.
“The current State Government may not have been responsible for creating this problem, but it is their problem to now fix and we call on them to do so,” Mr Walsh said.
“Western Power’s attitude to private poles poses a very real risk for the public and one which the energy regulator appears unable or unwilling to address.
“It was a matter of luck that no lives were lost in the Parkerville bushfire, but the people of Western Australia shouldn’t have to rely on luck. They are entitled to know their energy distributors are acting safely and that the regulator and State Government are holding them to account.”
Lead test case plaintiffs Garry and Sandra Elwood lost everything when their Stoneville house was burnt to the ground.
Mrs Elwood said her family and the broader community had been waiting a long time for this case to finally be heard.
“It has been four long, hard years and so many people in the community are still waiting for their insurance money and they’re doing it really tough,” Mrs Elwood said.
“Lots of families are out of pocket and they are frustrated the defendants have dragged the case out for so long.
“We have all banded together and tried to stay optimistic, but it is definitely time the Perth Hills community had its day in court.”
Mr Walsh said experts have found that the pole was so damaged by rot and termites that less than four per cent of the original wood at the fracture point was sound.
“The dangerous condition of the pole was completely missed by linesmen employed by Thiess doing contract work for Western Power, six months before the pole collapsed and again as recently as 36 hours before it fell and sparked the blaze.
“In our view, these decisions and actions amount to deplorable incompetence and are inexcusable in the circumstances.
“This was a wholly avoidable bushfire.”
Parkerville Bushfire: Series of Events
• The Parkerville bushfire was sparked on 12 January 2014 when a power pole on a property on Granite Road collapsed. As the pole fell, the live electrical wiring was exposed and arced against the metal enclosure. A burst of sparks ignited dry grass around the pole and the resulting fire swept across 400 hectares of bushland through Parkerville, Stoneville and Mount Helena. 57 homes were destroyed and many more were damaged.
• Post-fire investigations showed the pole had fractured just below the ground line due to rot and termite damage. Less than four per cent of the original wood at the groundline fracture point was sound.
• The pole was supposedly inspected by Theiss linecrews doing contract work for Western Power just six months before it fell and sparked the fire. Two days before the fire, another Theiss linecrew conducted maintenance on one of the nearby poles which required the contractors to specifically check the condition of the surrounding poles. The poles were not checked and just 36 hours later, the pole fell and sparked the Parkerville bushfire.