Wooden power pole that sparked Perth hills bushfire in “deplorable” condition

Stock image.
Stock image.

A WOODEN power pole that fell and sparked a bushfire destroying 57 homes in Perth’s hills district had been rotting for years and was in a “deplorable, disgraceful” condition, the Supreme Court has been told.

A class action on behalf of 189 residents affected by the 2014 fire in Parkerville, Stoneville and Mt Helena began on Monday, with their counsel Lachlan Armstrong saying the pole had only four per cent good wood remaining at its base when it toppled.

While the termite-ridden pole was privately owned, state-run utility Western Power had a responsibility to ensure it was safe for the supply of electricity, Mr Armstrong said.

He said the corporation or its contractors repeatedly failed to properly check the pole’s condition when working on cables and other equipment, and if and when they did, the checks were “hopelessly incompetent”.

He said the company had also failed to notify the property owner of a need to have the pole properly inspected.

“This pole was in a deplorable, disgraceful condition,” Mr Armstrong told the trial, which was streamed live on the internet in a first for Western Australia.

“This pole had reached the point where even a modest gust of wind was enough to cause it to fail.”

Lead plaintiffs Garry and Sandra Elwood, who lost everything when their house was burnt to the ground, said the action wasn’t just about compensation.

“Rules need to change – we actually need to get something done on these private power poles,” Ms Elwood told reporters outside court.

Her husband said the state government should replace “or even just inspect” the poles.

“If this pole was inspected even the day before or two days before when there was work done on the line, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now,” he said.

Mr Elwood said he and his son were lucky to escape with their lives after they stayed to fight the fire.

He predicted neglected poles would cause more potentially fatal fires.

“I just want people to realise that they are in danger of their lives,” he said.

“It’s about time our government in Western Australia stood up and took responsibility for the infrastructure that as failed.”

The woman who owned the property on which the pole stood is also a respondent.

The trial is set down for seven weeks.