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Fire report sparks class action

WESTERN Power and its contractor could be liable for the bushfire that destroyed 57 homes and damaged 230 properties in the Perth Hills on January 12 according to a local residents’ group. The Office of Energy Safety WA (OESWA) released its final report on the cause of the Parkerville, Stoneville and Mt Helena bushfires which found the private power pole on Granite Rd, Parkerville failed due to extensive damage from fungal decay or rot and termites. Stoneville Parkerville Progress Association chair Greg Jones said he had been advised insurance claims had already exceeded $150 million. “Actual losses are likely to be much higher as some residents were under-insured or not insured against all aspects,” he said. “The SPPA has carefully studied the official reports and it appears Western Power and its contractor may have a strong case to answer and indeed, could be liable. “Evidence contained in the report highlights Western Power inspected the consumer pole six months before the fire and declared the pole safe. “This was despite evidence it was riddled with termite damage and fungi rot and that termites had been established for many years. “[Under] Western Power’s own Operational Work Practice Standards note they must issue a fault note to the customer to have an electrician replace the pole. “Additionally, Western Power has a responsibility to the customer to notify them of an unsafe condition of a power pole and to make the site safe.” Mr Jones said the property owner could not be charged by the OESWA as there was no legislation as yet to compel property owners to inspect privately-owned power poles. “On the other hand, Western Power had previously inspected the consumer pole and deemed it safe to reconnect to the supply grid in July, 2013. “What the OESWA report fails to mention is the full extent of work that occurred on January 10, 2014 when Western Power and its contractor changed out power poles and power lines in Johnston Rd, Parkerville. “Given that the fire started only a matter of hours after this work was completed, only metres away from where the work was undertaken, this is a stark omission. “There appears to be other relevant circumstances that also leave Western Power and its contractor open to legal action.” Mr Jones said two law firms were currently investigating the legal rights of affected residents and property owners and may take legal action. “Legal action could include claims for damages, losses, loss of income, stress and mental anguish,” he said. “Shortfalls in insurance claims, extra costs and even uninsured losses could also be considered.” Slater and Gordon and Perth bushfire litigation lawyer Kevin Banks-Smith said the firm was investigating a potential class action following the release of the report into the cause of the fire. “What is clear from Energy Safety’s report is the extensive damage done by the fire could have been prevented had Western Power implemented suitable testing methods when maintenance was performed in the months before the fire,” he said. “The fact that the fallen pole was the point of supply to the property increases the likelihood that Western Power had a responsibility to adequately check and maintain the pole.” Slater and Gordon said it had been retained by several affected individuals and expected more would come forward in light of the Energy Safety report. Maurice Blackburn’s Perth office principal Phil Gleeson said class action experts were in the early stages of an investigation into the merits of a potential action on behalf of those affected by these fires. “It is too premature to say with certainty where that investigation will lead, however we are currently prepared for people to register their details with us in the event an action becomes more likely.” Energy Safety director Ken Bowron said the clear finding of the report was that the pole failed because it was rotten and had been infested by termites. Mr Bowron said poles older than 25 years could be unsafe.

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