May 3, 2017

Lawyers mount class action over Currandooley fire

Firm launches class action over Currandooley fire | Louise Thrower | Goulburn Post | 3 May 2017 |

A Victorian legal firm has mounted a class action over the Currandooley fire which burnt out almost 3400 hectares near Tarago in January.

Maddens Lawyers of Warrnambool will represent 33 individuals owning 22 properties in the NSW Supreme Court action.

The firm’s class action principal, Brendan Pendergast, said the action alleged that Infigen Energy “was aware of the risk that a bird strike to its high voltage power line could cause a fire.” Further, it was aware of previous similar incidents but “failed to take appropriate steps to address the risk until after the fire.”

Infigen has previously denied any liability for the outbreak and declined to comment on the class action.

The blaze started at Infigen’s Capital Wind Farm off Taylors Creek Road, near Tarago on the morning of January 17. It tore through 3384ha, fanned by strong winds and fuelled by high heat and dry conditions.

It destroyed a house at Mount Fairy, 80ha of crops, eight sheds, 10.5km of windbreaks, cattle yards, stock water tanks and over 150km of fencing, Local Land Service figures revealed. A total 230 animals died and 110 were destroyed on welfare grounds.

A NSW Rural Fire Service investigation found that a bird struck a high-voltage power line transferring electricity from Infigen’s Woodlawn wind farm to a substation at the Capital wind farm. The bird caught fire, dropped to the ground, sparking the blaze.

Mount Fairy couple Fred Kuhn and Liz Stewart are the lead plaintiffs. More than 40 of Mr Kuhn’s 150 sheep had to be put down after the outbreak.

Mr Pendergast claimed Infigen “failed to exercise reasonable care and to address this very serious issue until after the fire.”

“We are saying that the line design is inappropriate. Its configuration should be such that when a bird lands on an energised conductor it doesn’t cause a short circuit and for a bird to ignite,” he said.

“In most cases the birds would simply die a horrible death but in under the right climatic conditions, it can cause a fire….We say this is foreseeable.”

The action also claims that Infigen only mitigated fire risk by slashing grass beneath power poles in the days following. It had also built 12-metre diameter gravel ‘pads’ at their base for the same reason.

“This is not a theory of a few disgruntled property owners. They are the steps the company took after the fire,” Mr Pendergast said.

In February the company acknowledged the actions but said it was about “improving processes” and reducing the risk of birds catching fire.

While Maddens is seeking damages for 22 large and small properties, he says there are another six for which he’s awaiting instructions from owners.

Mr Pendergast said total damage across the fire ground could be as high as $20 million. He has not identified a compensation amount for the class action.

He has attended several Tarago community meetings after the fire.

Writs for the class action were issued in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday and the company was served with the notice on Wednesday.

A directions hearing is expected to be held in several months.

Meantime, police said a coronial brief on the fire was still being prepared.

Mr Pendergast said Maddens Lawyers would seek leave to appear if a coronial inquiry was held.

His firm has also mounted a class action over the Carwoola fire, east of Queanbeyan, which destroyed 3100ha in February. It was allegedly started by a property owner operating an angle grinder.

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