Australia– The power company accused of causing the deadliest Black Saturday bushfire has taken no additional steps to reduce the risk of a similar disaster this fire season, one of its senior managers revealed today
Paul Lane, regional manager of electricity distributor SP Ausnet, told the Black Saturday royal commission he had no knowledge of any steps his company was taking to further minimise bushfire risks, including checking power lines in bushfire prone areas for signs of metal fatigue.
The inquiry has been told that metal fatigue resulting from wind vibration and a faulty fitting caused a power line at snap at East Kilmore on February 7, starting a blaze that killed 119 people and destroyed 1244 homes.
Mr Lane said he was aware that metal fatigue could cause power lines to break, but had no knowledge of any monitoring system within SP Ausnet to assess lines for early signs of fatigue.
He also did not know of any policy within SP Ausnet to test broken power lines to determine why they failed, including evidence of metal fatigue. The lines were simply patched up and re-strung, he said.
SP Ausnet did not inspect more often power lines that were considered to be “high risk” or might be approaching the end of their useful life, which was between 40 and 60 years, Mr Lane said.
SP Ausnet was also not retro-fitting wind vibration dampers on 16 power line spans longer than a kilometre in bushfire areas, despite the higher risk of metal fatigue and the danger they might break in the coming bushfire season, he said.
The power line that failed on Black Saturday had been constructed in 1966 and was spanning a gap of just over a kilometre between poles.
Asked by Robert Richter QC, who is representing bushfire victims, whether he had any information from senior managers within SP Ausnet that led him to believe there would not be another Black Saturday this summer, Mr Lane replied: “Theres been no information that I’ve received that’s indicated whether these longer spans are having any investigative work on them.”
The inquiry into the Black Saturday bushfires, which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes, is continuing.