A victim has told a court the St Patrick's Day bushfires tore out her soul and left her with nothing but ashes.
Vicki Angus read an emotional victim impact statement on Monday during a hearing in Warrnambool Magistrates Court where energy giant Powercor pleaded guilty to failing to minimise the risk of bushfire.
The charge related to powerlines that clashed in high winds at Terang's High Street, sparking one of the fires on St Patrick's Day in March 2018.
The fire burnt about 5800 hectares of land in Dixie, Cobrico, Cobden, Elingamite, Glenfyne, Jancourt and Scotts Creek.
More than 20 homes were destroyed, including that of Ms Angus, who said the fire should never have happened and that it had "torn the living soul out of us all".
"Words fail to describe the realisation that the only belongings you now have are those that you are wearing," she said.
"No legal identity, no family history, no evidence of shared experiences. Gone is all the hours you've spent collecting and planning to create a garden paradise over 20 years. Gone is all the equipment you used, obliterated overnight."
Ms Angus said that on the night of the fire, her family wasn't home and was robbed of the chance of saving personal belongings.
"When we were notified of a fire heading in the direction of our property, the roads were blocked and we could not return," she said.
She said she was still traumatised by what they had lost - photo books and journals that chronologically detailed her children's lives, academic transcripts, war medals and her grandmother's 100-year-old engagement ring.
She said she no longer had a baby photo of her youngest child, leaving her permanently scarred and in great distress.
"What do I and my children have to show their children and grandchildren? Photos of ashes," she said.
Ms Angus said people often told her she was lucky to be alive.
"We know this but this doesn't help," she said.
"There is no luck. We are the unlucky ones. We are victims of a situation that could have been avoided if appropriate steps had been taken.
"If this fire was due to a natural occurrence, maybe it could have been easier to deal with."
A Dixie resident said that on the night of the fire, she fled her home in an older vehicle, which suffered a slow leaking puncture after driving over fallen trees.
In her victim impact statement, she wrote she was terrified as she learnt exit roads were closed to traffic and directed to shelter at the Timboon public hall.
She said she feared she would die there and that her family would find her body, as well as her husband's, their dogs and all those who were sheltering inside.
The resident recalled weeping when she thought about her neighbours, who she believed she would never see again, and her poultry that remained on the land and faced an awful death.
Her home survived the fire but she said the events were always on her mind when she left her property.
"That's not a great way to live," she said.
Prosecutor Sally Flynn QC told the court a pole at Terang could have leaned as much as six degrees in a southerly direction, causing conductors crossing High Street to become slack, closer to the ground and closer to other conductors.
She said no defects were reported during an inspection in January 2017, leaving the energy network in a state where conductors were at risk of clashing in high winds on March 18 the following year.
"And they did in fact clash on that day, or perhaps more accurately that night, causing the Terang fire," Ms Flynn said.
Clashing conductors caused molten metal to fall to the ground and light-up the area of dry grass below.
Ms Flynn said it was practicable for Powercor to ensure the clearance between conductors was adequate and in accordance with industry standards, and that the offender was therefore in breach of its general duties.
Lawyers for Powercor said the clashing of vertically-spaced conductors was "very rare, if not unprecedented" and that Energy Safe Victoria was aware the asset inspection manual didn't provide for the checking of vertical distances between conductors.
They said certain issues would have been discussed if the matter had continued as a contested hearing, including there being no evidence of the conductors clashing prior to the St Patrick's Day bushfires in 2018.
They said another issue was the lack of clearance being observed by an asset inspector, rather than a line worker, and that there was no specific task relating to an asset inspector checking vertical clearances of conductors.
The defence said the interrelationship between an anchor pole and a leaning pole was not something that was previously recognised and analysed as a potential hazard.
It said those who inspected the infrastructure resided in Terang and if the problem had been "blatantly obvious", it would have been easy for those with the appropriate skills to notice.
The court heard Powercor had performed emergency repairs immediately after the fire, including fixing the conductors, straightening the anchor pole and filling the footing with concrete so it no longer leaned.
The defence said further changes to the conductors meant that if the anchor pole was to lean again, it would not create any reduced clearance between the conductors.
About 270 similar structures were then surveyed through Powercor's asset database to make sure there were no similar reduced clearances to those present before the fire, the court heard.
The defence said Powercor had also since trialled unique LiDar data captured from helicopters, which when fully implemented, would identify powerlines that don't meet the required clearance.
The Garvoc blaze wiped out at least two houses, 4000 hectares and stock.
On Monday, magistrate Kieran Gilligan said that in terms of the Garvoc fire, it "wasn't the greatest prosecution case", and that a plea offer was accepted by ESV after an initial rejection in mid-September.
Lawyers said the energy giant indicated an early guilty plea to the single remaining charge at the time of the plea offer, which sought all of the charges relating to the Garvoc fire being withdrawn.
The maximum penalty for the remaining charge is a fine exceeding $237,000.
Powercor will be sentenced on Wednesday.
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