USA — A former soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder could have missed televised bushfire warnings in the days leading up to Black Saturday because he avoided watching television, which triggered memories of his tours overseas.
Darrin Gibson lost his wife Lesley and their three children in the Kilmore East bushfire on February 7, 2009.
He also lost parts of his feet in the bushfire.
Mr Gibson had served in the Australian army in Cambodia and Iraq before a shoulder injury and his stress disorder led to him being deemed unfit for active service and discharged in 2008. Advertisement
The second plaintiff to testify in a class action against SP Ausnet, the CFA, DSE and state of Victoria, he told the Supreme Court on Monday that he did not remember any bushfire warnings on the radio or television in the days leading up to Black Saturday.
Mr Gibson occasionally listened to music on AM radio but did not listen to talkback radio.
“I didn’t watch much TV when (I did) I’ve often seen things from overseas which would play on my mind at night time so I tried to avoid watching it,” he said.
The claimants are suing the CFA, DSE and the state of Victoria for not issuing adequate warnings.
The state’s parties argue that there was ample media coverage of the weather conditions before Black Saturday and that the CFA had long told residents not to rely on warnings to be issued to implement their bushfire survival plans.
Mr Gibson said his family’s bushfire survival plan had been to drive to Whittlesea at the first warning of fire in their area. They had never intended to stay and defend their Kinglake West home.
He had been monitoring the Bureau of Meteorology website and the radio for bushfire alerts and, after hearing of one in Kinglake West, ran to the top of his driveway to find “one long line” of fire.
“The nearest fire seemed to be about two to 300 metres away,” he said.
A Whittlesea policewoman told Mr Gibson via telephone that the road to the town was blocked. Mr Gibson fled with his wife, Lesley Leahy, and their children Kiona, 4, Jye, 3, and Ava, 1, from their burning house, with his shoes melted from his feet. He was the only survivor.
He suffered burns to one-quarter of his body and had part of both his feet amputated. He is now likely to have both legs amputated below the knees.
Mr Gibson is among about 10,000 claimants suing electricity distributor SP Ausnet, which owned and operated the power line that sparked the fire.
It is the state’s largest-ever class action.
In 2011, Mr Gibson accepted a bravery medal from Governor-General Quentin Bryce in honour of his wife, who ran into their burning house to rescue their eldest child.