A fireman spraying water on a road. Picture: Evan Collis

Western Power fined $80,000 for Wheatbelt fire

Besides burning thousands of hectares of farmland, the fire also damaged property and killed hundreds of animals.
January 18, 2024

WESTERN Power was last month fined $80,000 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure network safety in relation to the Wickepin-Narrogin bushfire in February 2022.

Perth Magistrates Court heard the bushfire on February 6, 2022 started when Western Power’s high-voltage overhead electricity conductors clashed between two power poles in Wardering.

The resulting sparks ignited grass stubble and the fire spread across 18,000ha of bushland and farmland. The same powerline clashed another two times on February 11, 2022 before it was remediated later that day.

Besides burning thousands of hectares of farmland, the fire also damaged property and killed hundreds of animals.

WA’s electrical safety regulator, Building and Energy, told the court its investigation found the distance between the power poles exceeded the prescribed limits. The separation between the conductors that clashed was also closer than the prescribed limits, causing a risk of arcing.

Western Power was charged under WA’s Electricity (Network Safety) Regulations 2015 for failing to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that its network was maintained to ensure it was safe in the months leading up to the bushfire.

In addition to the fine, Western Power was ordered to pay $1,719 in costs, noting the network operator was aware of issues with the powerline bay and had not carried out remediation, requiring just two days’ work, prior to the fire.

Victim impact statements from property owners described the physical, emotional and financial effects of the incident including fighting the fire and handling deceased livestock.

WA’s Director of Energy Safety, Saj Abdoolakhan, welcomed Western Power’s guilty plea and acknowledged its improvement actions since the bushfire.

“This was a damaging and stressful incident for the affected land owners, many of whom are still dealing with the aftermath,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.

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