A CAR was seen on the Princes Highway near the 2009 Weerite-Pomborneit fire when the first CFA crew arrived, the Supreme Court heard yesterday.
Justice Jack Forrest, court staff and legal teams representing Terrence Place and Powercor visited the site of the Black Saturday fire yesterday morning as part of the Weerite-Pomborneit class action against Powercor.
At least 30 claimants are seeking compensation for losses in the fires, which burnt more than 1000 hectares of land.
The court heard evidence from Mr Place, the lead plaintiff, who said he saw a car which had stopped on the north side of the highway near a dairy when he arrived at the fire.
Mr Place, 54, of Johnstone Road, Pomborneit, said he had been in the CFA since he was in about year 12. He became captain of the Pomborneit brigade in 2002 and had attended between 95 to 100 per cent of the fires in the region.
He said 12 months before Black Saturday it had been very dry, but a good spring meant that by December there was a good base of grass throughout the area.
Mr Place said in the days before the fire the brigade had received the biggest and strongest warnings in his time with the CFA.
“On that day we were all kitted up with boots and cover pants, everything else was ready to go at short notice,” he said.
At 11.30am Mr Place and his brother went towards Camperdown and noticed the power lines were angling out to the south due to the wind velocity.
He said they decided if the power at the station fluctuated they would return to the power line. About 1pm the power flickered for two to three seconds, at which he and his brother stood up, grabbed their coats and helmets and drove west on the highway.
He said as they approached they saw smoke rising quickly and the fire had spread about 150 metres into a paddock, although it was difficult to see the firefront because of smoke. Mr Place said the fire was slowed by summer and lucerne crops but his biggest fear was it getting into the Otway Ranges.
The fire was contained by 5.50pm and Mr Place returned to the area with two fire investigators about 8pm.
“It was bloody awful,” he said. “It was amazing how much had burnt. It was amazing how hot it was and the devastation in certain parts.”
Under cross-examination by counsel for Powercor, David Curtain, Mr Place was asked why he had not mentioned the car in a signed statement he had previously made. Mr Place said he didn’t think it was suspicious and he could not describe the car.
Mr Curtain asked why Mr Place’s submission given in the Black Saturday Royal Commission differed from evidence given yesterday.
The submission stated the lights at the station flickered at 1pm. “You now say it was 10 to 15 minutes after 1pm,” Mr Curtain said.
Mr Place said he had thought more and read more about it since then and he probably should have said after 1pm.
Mr Curtain asked if he had seen clashing power lines before, to which Mr Place said “no”.
He also asked if Mr Place spoke to anyone at Powercor in the days after the fire. Mr Place said because he lost a lot of his property he couldn’t honestly say what had happened in the next few days.
The case began in Warrnambool on Monday and is expected to run for four weeks.