Call for underground wires to cut fire risk

Call for underground wires to cut fire risk 

12 September 2011

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Australia — ABOVE ground powerlines should be removed and replaced with underground wires in areas at most risk of bushfire, according to a Victorian council ravaged by bushfire on Black Saturday.

Yarra Ranges Council, on Melbourne’s eastern fringe, has called for the powerlines to be replaced in a ”staged” manner, with priority given to lines in wildfire management overlay zones and bushfire-prone areas.

The Yarra Ranges, which includes the fire-hit communities of Steels Creek, Toolangi and Chum Creek, suffered an enormous toll on Black Saturday, including 12 deaths. The Bushfires Royal Commission said an ”electrical failure” in Kilmore East caused the fire.

The full extent of the toll is summarised in a recent submission the council made to a special taskforce set up to investigate how to reduce the risk of catastrophic bushfires sparked by electricity system failures.

The council said that in addition to the deaths ”many other individuals and families were injured, displaced or adversely affected. Over 400 properties experienced damage, which included loss or substantial damage to 161 private dwellings”.

The council is home to the Dandenong Ranges, which was spared severe fire damage on Black Saturday but remains at substantial risk of bushfire. Most of Mount Dandenong is covered by a wildfire management overlay – a planning tool that recognises the significant threat of bushfire and places controls on the way land is used.

The council acknowledged that the cost of putting powerlines underground in high fire-risk areas would be ”significant”, but pushed strongly for current infrastructure to be replaced.

”Yarra Ranges Council and community believe that the continued use of overhead, open-span powerlines in wildfire management overlay zones and bushfire-prone areas poses a significant risk to life and property,” it said.

The council, the state’s sixth most populous, has urged the government to use underground powerlines to reduce fire risk before, in a 2009 letter to former energy minister Peter Batchelor.

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