Before Black Saturday, there were a number of incidents with power lines clashing on the Colac-Camperdown line, particularly in the Weerite area, including at least one which caused a fire, the Supreme Court heard yesterday.
The Weerite-Pomborneit class action against Powercor began in Warrnambool yesterday.
At least 30 claimants are seeking compensation for losses in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, which burnt more than 1000 hectares of land.
In his opening address, Tim Tobin — counsel for Terrence Place — said there would be evidence presented to Justice Jack Forrest that the probable cause of the Weerite-Pomborneit bushfire was the ejection of aluminium particles from clashing and arcing power lines between two power poles. “The expert witnesses agree that when lines are known to have clashing problems, it is common industry practice to take corrective action to minimise the risk of conductor clashing,” Mr Tobin said.
He said Mr Place was the captain of the Pomborneit CFA and he and two crews were kitted up on February 7, 2009, ready for a fire.
Mr Tobin said that about 1pm Mr Place saw the lights in the station flicker for about three seconds but power was not lost.
“On the basis of past experience of fires caused by clashing conductors in the Weerite area, he and his brother Stephen immediately left the station in a slip-on unit and drove west,” he said.
“By the time he arrived at the fire, it was well into the paddock to the south of the highway.”
The bushfire started at 1.15pm in grass south of the Princes Highway near the corner of Danedite Road. It was active for about five hours, burning 1008 hectares through grazing land, across a railway line and roads. It caused damage to stock, crops, pasture, hay, fencing and buildings.
Mr Tobin said Mr Place was claiming damages against Powercor in negligence and for breach of statutory duty imposed by the Electricity Safety Act.
He said the principal issues in dispute were whether the fire was ignited by the ejection of a molten metallic particle or particles from clashing lines and if so whether Powercor failed to exercise reasonable care to avoid exposing the plaintiff and group members to the risk of property damage from fire caused by clashing power lines.
In his opening address, counsel for Powercor David Curtain said the electricity provider denied the allegations.
Mr Curtain said each span on each line must be considered in isolation and that there was not one remedy which could be applied generically to all lines
He said there was no previous record of the two power poles on the Colac-Camperdown line which would warrant review of the design and there was no previous incident of fault because of clashing between the two poles.
Mr Curtain said there were many other causes of supply interruption such as debris, birds, animals and human intervention. “Electricity is inherently dangerous,” he said.
“Transmission of electricity gives rise to a level of risk which can be managed but never eliminated.
“The Colac-Camperdown line is exposed to numerous hazards which interfere with the supply of electricity including debris, birds, animals, lightning and third party contact from vehicles, all of which could result in the commencement of fire. The plaintiff is unable to persuade the court, on the balance of probabilities, that there has been any breach by Powercor of any duty of care or breach of any statutory duty.”
Maddens Lawyers is handling the compensation claim.
Mr Forrest will visit the site of the fire today before the trial returns to court this afternoon.