Minor powerline fire in Mt Helena brings back memories of Parkerville inferno

Ian Johnston feared a repeat of the Parkerville fires when powerlines came down near his home. Picture: David Baylis.
Ian Johnston feared a repeat of the Parkerville fires when powerlines came down near his home. Picture: David Baylis.

MT Helena residents Ian and Clare Johnston are calling for a review of Western Power’s fault-handling procedures after strong winds brought down powerlines which started a fire near their home.

Mr Johnston said Western Power dismissed his concerns about reduced voltage on his 20ha property and suggested he call a licensed electrician.

“I tried to say they may be wrong, that it appeared to be a supply problem not a property problem, then I went outside to start my generator and saw the fire just 300m from my home,” he said.

Mr Johnston said he and his wife feared a repeat of the devastation caused by the Parkerville fires in 2014 when more than 40 homes went up in flames.

“I could see the fire was burning directly below a Western Power installation and I rang 000 to report the blaze,” he said.

“Fortunately local fire units were attending a function nearby and arrived quickly, but they were prevented from doing anything because the distribution line had broken and fallen, making a fence live.”

He said firefighters waited around for an hour and a half before someone arrived from Western Power to make the area safe.

“It was extremely good luck the fire did not spread into the surrounding hectares of bush, especially with the easterly wind blowing at that time,” he said.

Mr Johnston complained to Western Power about the handling of his call on March 10.

He asked what would happen if the situation was repeated but found the response equally disappointing.

A customer service officer said that when a single-phase premises had power issues, it was often as a result of a fault on the customer’s side and “the services of an electrical contractor, not Western Power, is required”.

The officer said Western Power was not aware of any wires down or fires within the area until a call was received from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services about 40 minutes after Mr Johnston’s call.

A Western Power spokesman said a fault crew was dispatched immediately under lights and siren.

“While we are confident that inbuilt automatic protection devices activate to cut power after something significant hits the network, as a precaution we always send a fault crew to confirm the area is safe,” he said.

“Our fault crew arrived on site at 9.30pm and confirmed a tree had been blown over by strong winds and as a result powerlines had been brought down.”

Drop-out fuses were removed from the network and the area around the fallen powerlines was safe for firefighters to work.

“We always advise people to call 000 in an emergency,” the spokesman said.

“If they see damage to the network, including fallen powerlines, stay at least 8m away and call Western Power on 13 13 51.”