A SENIOR CFA fire instructor who witnessed a fire in 2007 near the scene of the Black Saturday Weerite-Pomborneit outbreak believes it could have been started by power lines.
Francis Fabian Crowe’s evidence in the Supreme Court was heard yesterday by Justice Jack Forrest as part of a class action in Warrnambool against Powercor.
Mr Crowe said he had been a senior wildfire instructor with the CFA since 2001 and was the owner of a fire consultancy business.
He said on March 23, 2007 he was travelling on the Princes Highway from Colac through Weerite in convoy with a colleague, heading to a course at Glenormiston, when he saw a fire.
It was a hot day with dry and windy conditions and Mr Crowe said there was no one else around when he saw a fire on the north side of the highway.
It was 10 or 12 metres in diameter and flames were licking toward the road, moving in a southerly direction.
Mr Crowe said he called triple-0 and stationed at the east end of the section of highway, with his colleague at the west end.
He said it was less than five minutes before the brigade got there.
Mr Crowe said he made a general observation and couldn’t see how a fire would start 10 metres from the road. He said he made the suggestion it could “perhaps be attributed to power lines”.
Mr Crowe was asked by counsel for the plaintiff, Tim Tobin, about the likelihood of metal particles causing a fire in dry phalaris grass.
Mr Crowe said he couldn’t see why it would not cause ignition and would do so in a matter of seconds.
Under cross-examination by counsel for Powercor, David Curtain, Mr Crowe was asked what the CFA had done to reduce fuel loads along the Princes Highway.
Mr Crowe replied that he had reported it to his colleague and there was always high grass fuel between Colac and Camperdown.
He told the hearing he had used fragments of hot metal of various sizes to start fires in controlled conditions.
Asked by Mr Curtain if cars, trucks and headers were known sources for fires, Mr Crowe replied “yes” and said anything mechanical could start a fire. Mr Curtain put it to Mr Crowe that he had no idea of the time required for hot or molten metal particles to start a fire and Mr Crowe agreed he didn’t.
Asked by Justice Forrest what were the other possibilities for causing the 2007 fire, Mr Crowe said given the strong wind and the fire’s distance from the road, he tended to discount the possibility that the fire was caused by something from the road, such as debris from a vehicle.
He said it was a process of elimination and it was reasonable to suspect a link between the proximity of the power lines and the wind at the time.
Terrence Place is the lead plaintiff in the trial, which continues today.