‘Damaged powerlines were the probable cause of a Black Saturday bushfire’

‘Damaged powerlines were the probable cause of a Black Saturday bushfire’

24 September 2009

published by www.theaustralian.news.com.au

Australia — A firefighter found damaged powerlines about 30 metres from the start of a Black Saturday bushfire, the royal commission investigating the disaster was told today.
Terrance Place, the captain of the Pomborneit Country Fire Authority brigade in western Victoria, said he examined the scene where the fire started on February 7 and found no obvious signs of deliberate arson.

But he photographed damage to powerlines on a transmission line owned by distributor Powercor that looked recent.

The commission was told the fire, which caused “significant damage” to sheds and fencing and burned through 1300 hectares of grassland and pasture, started shortly after 1pm beside the Princes Highway near Weerite on Black Saturday.

“I believe the only probable cause of the fire was the clashing of Powercor conductors (powerlines) in the span of high voltage conductors on the north side of the Princes Highway,” Mr Place said.

But under cross examination from a lawyer from Powercor, Mr Place said the recent damage to the powerlines he found on the evening of February 7 may not have necessarily occurred on that day.

He also agreed that a cigarette butt or other evidence of an alternative cause of ignition could have been destroyed in the fire.

There had been a number of deliberate arson attacks in the area, Mr Place said, the most recent occurring two years earlier.

Farmer Kerry-Lynne Callow said she was driving along the Princes Highway about 1pm on Black Saturday when she saw a “blue flare” near a power pole ahead of her and shortly after drove past a fire on the opposite side of the road with waist-high flames.

She pulled over and reported the fire to triple 000.

Ms Callow said the blue flare travelled half way across the highway, but did not touch the ground.

A number of Black Saturday bushfires are suspected to have been caused by the failure of power lines and other transmission equipment.

The inquiry into the bushfires, which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes, continues.

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