Australia — A VICTORIAN farmer who led a class action against an electricity distributor whose powerlines were allegedly responsible for starting a Black Saturday bushfire says he hopes future fires will be prevented by his case.
Terry Place, 54, had 240 acres of land destroyed and lost fencing, a large hay shed and a yearling when bushfires tore through his dairy farm at Pomborneit, in Victoria’s southwest, on February 7, 2009.
He led a class action against power distributor Powercor, whose powerlines were alleged to have sparked the blaze.
Following a five-week hearing in the Victorian Supreme Court, the parties settled the case on Wednesday – the day Justice Jack Forrest was to deliver his judgment.
Under the settlement, estimated to be worth about $10 million, Powercor will pay victims 100 per cent of the losses they incurred as a result of the bushfire based on worth the day the fire hit.
But Powercor will maintain its denial of legal liability for the blaze.
Mr Place said while he was happy and relieved a settlement was reached, he was disappointed there would be no admission of liability.
“I would have loved to have got satisfaction from a judge saying they should have done this or they should have done that,” Mr Place told AAP.
“I don’t think this should happen to anybody.
“I just wanted to make sure that any little bit we can do, if we can stop one per cent or five per cent of fires ever happening like this again.”
He said he hoped the settlement would help the people of Pomborneit to rebuild.
The settlement is subject to approval by Justice David Beach on January 31 next year.
Brendan Pendergast, commercial litigation principal at Maddens Lawyers, described the settlement as a huge win, reflecting the inadequate maintenance of Powercor’s powerlines.
“Although Powercor maintains denial of legal liability for the blaze, it is difficult not to conclude that the settlement reflects a concern by the power provider that the court would have found that the fire began when sparks from clashing Powercor-owned lines ignited dry grass,” he said.
About 30 residents had joined the class action and more may join now the settlement has been reached.
In a statement, Powercor said it could now move forward and focus on continuing to provide a safe and reliable electricity supply as well as working with government and regulators to continue implementing recommendations from the Bushfires Royal Commission. The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.