RESIDENTS who lost their homes in the Parkerville, Mt Helena and Stoneville bushfires will have their day in court next week, with the class action against Western Power starting in the Supreme Court.
Nearly 200 residents and property owners are part of a class action suing Western Power, contractor Thiess and the elderly owner of a rotten and termite-ridden power pole that fell over in January 2014, sparking a blaze that razed 57 homes and nearly 400 hectares of bushland.
While the power pole was privately owned and on the property of Granite Road resident Noreen Campbell, EnergySafety found termite deposits near the top of it would have been visible to a contractor connecting a cable in July 2013.
Slater and Gordon group leader Rory Walsh said the fire was a wholly avoidable accident.
“We say Western Power should have been inspecting this power pole and had they done so the pole would have been condemned and the fire avoided,” he said.
“We also say work carried out on the pole six months before its collapse, and the work carried out next to the pole two days before, by the subcontractors Thiess should have led to it being detected to be in a deplorable state.”
Mr Walsh said evidence tendered this week included emails between Western Power and the regulator that showed only some property owners were sent a brochure informing them that any pole on a private property “after” the Western Power meter box was the owner’s responsibility to maintain.
“Mrs Campbell was one of the residents who never received the brochure and she said if she had known it was her responsibility, she would have had it inspected,” he said.
“Western Power estimates there are at least 130,000 power poles on private properties in WA but the real number is unknown, as well as the age and condition of these poles.
“It’s an extraordinary penny pinching approach by Western Power not to mail the brochure to all residents with a private power pole.
“We think it’s an appalling situation that Western Power has this whole network of private poles which are attached to its network which it doesn’t inspect or accept any responsibility for.”
Mr Walsh said his clients were still suffering significant financial hardship as a result of the fire.
“It also creates great stress and psychological stresses for our client group and so they are very much looking forward to this trial, getting their day in court,” he said.
A Western Power spokesperson said they understood it had been a difficult time for everyone involved.
“However, as the matter is currently before court, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on specific allegations raised about privately-owned power poles on private property,” the spokesperson said.
“All matters and allegations raised during the trial will be addressed, in detail, by our legal representatives.”
In a WA first, the trial is being live-streamed on the internet, accessible to the general public.
The trial is set to last for eight weeks.