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Call for power lines to be buried in fire areas

11 September 2009 1,268 views No Comment

BURYING power lines in bushfire-prone areas and more clearing of hazardous trees near above-ground power lines need to be seriously considered to reduce the risk of sparking blazes, the Bushfires Royal Commission has been told.

The regulator of Victoria’s power industry at the time of the Black Saturday fires, Ken Gardner, suggested the measures under questioning at the commission yesterday.

Mr Gardner, who left the position last month, also said more frequent inspections of electricity assets, and more frequent and more stringent inspections of older assets, should be considered.

He told the commission that he understood that electricity assets were involved in the start of the Beechworth and Horsham fires.

The Beechworth fire ultimately killed two people, destroyed 29 houses and burnt 31,000 hectares of countryside. The Horsham fire destroyed 68 houses and burnt 2200 hectares, but caused no fatalities.

Energy Safe Victoria had investigated the causes of the Kilmore, Beechworth, Horsham and one of the Western District bushfires on Black Saturday, Mr Gardner said, but he did not give comprehensive details from the witness stand of what the investigations found.

The comments linking power lines to two Black Saturday bushfires came a day after a senior Victoria Police officer told the commission that the fatal fire which started in Kilmore East was likely to have been caused by a power line.

”The origin of the fire reveals that it was likely caused from a high-tension power line which fell, earthing and sparking,” Detective Superintendent Paul Hollowood told the commission in a written witness statement.

The Kilmore East fire ultimately roared in a south-easterly direction towards the hills, killing 121 people in places such as Kinglake, St Andrews and Strathewen.

It caused the greatest loss of life of all Black Saturday fires.

A class action has been filed against SP AusNet for the Kilmore fire.

Mr Gardner said more needed to be done to reduce threats to power lines. ”If you wanted to make the next big step change in terms of reducing fire starts, it would be about reducing the number of trees that fall on lines, and branches that fall across lines,” he said.

”Our view is that you need to do more work on the trees adjacent to the power lines, but there are contrary views.

”There are other alternatives that need to be considered, whether it should all be insulated cable, aerial bundled cable, whether it should be underground in particular circumstances.

”I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer for anything. But all those options need to be considered.”

Mr Gardner was the director of energy safety at Energy Safe Victoria at the time of the Black Saturday bushfires.

In other evidence yesterday the commission heard that:

– Electricity companies were frustrated that they sometimes encountered long delays in getting approval to remove trees.

– Many ”hazardous” trees were on government-owned land.

– Fire starts in SP AusNet’s rural region had fallen since it started operating in Victoria.


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