THE live streaming of a trial into the 2014 Parkerville bushfires allows those still reeling from the continued aftermath of the devastating blaze to observe at a safe distance, says long-term hills resident Jacquie Humphrey.
The seven-week trial, which began on Monday with Slater and Gordon representing 189 affected residents against Western Power and its contractor Thiess, will be livestreamed in a WA first.
Four-and-a-half years after the fire, Ms Humphrey continues to rebuild her life.
“Once the green comes back, a lot of people forget, they don’t understand how many are still suffering,” she said.
“Not all cases are suitable for live streaming but in this case, for those who find it distressing to be there in person, they can watch at a safe distance and quietly on their own.
“They can decide when and if they want to stop and walk away.”
The 66-year-old dog trainer and former volunteer firefighter lost so much more than the roof off her house and her business when the bushfire came through on January 12, 2014.
“My partner had a heart attack and died after the fire,” she said.
“The hard part was when they said in the report that it was ‘good fortune’ no lives were lost.
“The stress of the fire and after the fire took its toll leading up to his death.
“You had to fight with everyone, builders, insurers, it was huge.
“The consequence of the fire was that there was so much pressure on families.”
Ms Humphrey, who also lost her father one month after the death of her partner, said she attended the first litigation meeting but PTSD inhibited her from continuing the fight.
“In the early stages of extreme post-traumatic stress disorder, your brain doesn’t function correctly, it’s always in flight or fight mode.
“I was incapable of making decisions at that point in time, I thought this is way too much for me…I wasn’t coping.”
“Because I didn’t actually get involved, for me it (the streamed case) is very important, very valuable.”
She commended the difficult task of lead plaintiffs Sandra and Garry Elwood.
“Who’s to say something else like this isn’t going to happen again?
“We all need to know the outcome, how it was handled and what’s going on.”
Slater and Gordon lawyers applied for the trial to be publicly viewable in the interest of open justice, with practice group leader Rory Walsh saying public interest extended beyond those directly impacted by the Parkerville, Stoneville and Mt Helena bushfires.
“It not only raises liability issues arising from this bushfire, but also squarely raises for determination by this Court, what responsibility Western Power has in relation to inspecting and maintaining power poles on private properties,” Mr Walsh said.
“Given there are over 100,000 privately owned poles across the Western Power Network, many of which are in areas of high bushfire risk, there is significant public interest in having this issue resolved.”
An EnergySafety report found a termite and fungal rot-damaged wooden power pole fell and ignited ground vegetation, starting the fire and leading to the destruction of 57 homes.
Western Power said it had adequate systems of inspection, maintenance and replacement of wooden poles in its network.
“The pole was not part of Western Power’s network,” the spokesperson said.
“It is the responsibility of a property owner to keep private electrical infrastructure on their property in a fit and safe condition.”
The trial could run until August 31 – go to www.supremecourt.wa.gov.au then the media and publications tab under transcripts and videos.
By Claire Ottaviano