Australia — Victims of the Black Saturday bushfire at Kilmore East wept as footage of the blaze that killed 119 people was played in the Supreme Court in Melbourne.
In the biggest civil case in Victorian history, 10,000 plaintiffs allege negligence on the part of SP AusNet and Utility Services Corporation.
The blaze razed 125,000 hectares and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
The lawyer representing the victims, Robert Richter, QC, said the defendants were aware that older and faulty electricity infrastructure could cause a devastating bushfire in extreme weather conditions but failed to take steps to make it safe.
Some of the testimony was so emotional that some had to leave the courtroom.
The court was shown a video of the fire bearing down on the home of Carole Anne Matthews, who lost her son in the blaze.
She wept as the court heard of her son’s efforts to fight the huge blaze.
Just before he died he told her he was surrounded by flames and trees were exploding.
Mr Richter read accounts of four plaintiffs, including Darrin Gibson, 45, of Kinglake West.
He suffered severe burns while trying to save his partner and three children.
After he woke from an induced coma, he was told his family had perished in the bushfire.
The court heard of a woman who made 15 desperate phone calls to her husband, who died after he remained to defend their property at Lower Plenty.
Another woman lost her son and two grandchildren despite her frantic efforts to save them.
‘Too much to bear’
Lyn Gunter was the mayor of the Murrindindi Shire at the time of the fire and she found the footage too much to bear.
“The images never leave you, but to this day I can’t watch it, I just can’t watch it. I had to leave,” she said.
Earlier, Mr Ritcher told the court the cause of the fire was not in dispute.
The fire began when electricity was switched on through a damaged power line
The Supreme Court heard inspections should have foreseen the risk of a damaged power line breaking in hot windy weather, steps should have been taken to prevent it from happening.
SP AusNet maintain a lightning strike before Black Saturday weakened the power line and that was unforeseeable.
As part of the action SP AusNet is facing 1,100 personal injury claims; nearly 6,000 property damage claims and 3,400 claims for both property damage and personal injury. Victoria Police, the CFA and the Department of Sustainability and Environment are also being sued.