UPDATE, 1pm: Electricity company Powercor faces a future tsunami of failing Mountain Grey Gum wooden power poles, according to the barrister for The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire victims.
Francis Tiernan, QC, made the claim in his opening address on behalf of the victims in their case against Powercor and a contractor which started at noon in the Supreme Court sitting at Melbourne.
He also claimed that Powercor reduced pole No. 4 on The Sparrow Spur line to "large match sticks" during secret destructive testing which the barrister described as "outrageous conduct".
That power pole snapped causing The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire on March 17 last year.
The Powercor maintenance regime and inspections of pole No.4 by inspector Peter McFarlane on May 15, 2015, and on November 30, 2017 - just months before the fire - are also expected to come under microscopic scrutiny.
Mr Tiernan said that experts would say that hundreds of thousands of poles, particularly those 19,000 with re-enforced stakes were "the proverbial ticking time bomb".
He said Powercor faced a tsunami of problems and likely failures in regard to re-enforced Mountain Grey Gum power poles.
Mountain Grey Gum has not been used for new poles since about 1984, most in service were now 55 to 60 years old and were reaching their life expectancy.
Sunday: Electricity company Powercor knew about a rotten power pole in 2005, 13 years before it snapped and caused The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire, according to lawyers acting for its victims.
That claim that the company should have known and didn't act will be key in a Supreme Court civil trial starting on Monday in Melbourne.
It's part of the official written outline of opening submitted to the court by Hall & Wilcox, lawyers for bushfire victims and their insurers, which has been obtained by The Standard.
The opening contains the evidence victims of The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire will rely on in their more than $19 million case against the electricity giant and an inspection contractor.
Experts will tell the court that Powercor was on notice from 2005 that the pole had a substantial internal cavity caused by rot, but failed to take any additional precautions in the subsequent 13 years leading up to its failure.
A drill test in 2005 returned a reading of just 70mm of sound wood.
A Powercor spokeswoman said the company would not be commenting while the matter was before the court.
The case is expected to be extremely topical as Victoria approaches a bumper fire danger period, and bushfires continue to devastate much of New South Wales and Queensland.
On St Patrick's Day last year, pole No. 4 on the Sparrow Spur line near Terang snapped in high wind causing a bushfire. It was one of four main bushfires caused that day in the south-west by electrical infrastructure.
According to the claim, the collapse was due to wood rot and termites producing a conical or vase-shaped void about two metres high inside the pole.
At the time of the fire, the mountain grey gum pole had been in service for 53 years in the high bushfire danger area.
It was double staked in 1994, shifting the load point from ground level to above the stakes.
But, expert evidence suggests these works reduced the strength of the pole by 25 to 30 per cent and allowed increased moisture to enter the pole through large bolt holes - producing a more conducive environment for timber rot and decay.
"In other words, a measure designed to strengthen the pole and prolong its service life ultimately had the opposite effect," Hall & Wilcox claim.
Expert evidence will be heard that data collected on inspections was not actioned, leaving enormous gaps in Powercor's knowledge of its ageing fleet of 580,000 power poles.
Subsequent inspectors were kept in the dark about the fact that the pole had been impacted by rot for over a decade, the court will be told. Inspections were also undertaken when inspectors were under pressure to meet targets during an impending tender/contract renewal process and some checks were completed in under four minutes, it will also be claimed.
Experts will say even visual inspections should have set off alarm bells in 2005 about pole No. 4 and defects would have been visible at all four subsequent inspections. The last inspection was carried out on November 30, 2017 - just four months before the bushfire.
The plaintiffs will claim the inspection in 2005, and every one since, were performed incompetently.
They say the drilling tests identified "well established decay" and had the inspections been properly performed, the pole would have been identified and removed from service years before the fire.
A series of fires in the Terang district on St Patrick's Day led to the loss of 18 homes, 45 sheds and thousands of stock.
The plaintiffs in The Sisters/Garvoc fire, many dairy farmers, sustained damaged of about $19.1 million and have had ongoing business losses in addition to the massive psychological toll on the victims and their community.
A class action run by Warrnambool's Maddens Lawyers in relation to the same fire was recently settled.
Other legal actions in relation to fires at Terang/Cobden, Camperdown/Gnotuk and Gazette bushfires in the south-west are also in the process of or have been settled.
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.