November 10, 2017

Fire victims await Currandooley blaze coronial inquiry

Louise Thrower | Goulburn Post | November 10, 2017 |

The State Coroner’s Office is edging closer to an inquiry into the massive Currandooley fire.

Affected landowners have been told the Coroner intended to hold an inquiry next year, but the court has yet to formalise this decision.

The blaze swept through almost 3500 hectares near Tarago in January, destroying pasture, 230 head of stock, 80ha of crops, a house, sheds and 10.5 kilometres of windbreaks.

The Rural Fire Service found the fire started on Infigen Energy’s Capital wind farm on January 17 after a bird flew into a high-voltage power line. The bird then dropped, alight, to long grass below, sparking the outbreak.

Infigen Energy has denied any liability.

The Coroner’s office confirmed an order requesting documents to be produced for the Coroner’s consideration was made on July 25.

The documents, including evidence of permits, faults, repairs and maintenance checks, must be tendered by November 28, for review. A brief of evidence by Monaro Local Area Command was sent to the office in June.

A Coroner’s office spokesman said no date or location had yet been set for the inquiry and the matter was still in the legal process.

But the move has heartened those who previously called for the investigation. For Tarago district resident Dr Michael Crawford, questions must be answered.

“Certainly it’s a critical thing for two reasons,” he said.

“One, for the number of local landholders affected, because there’s an issue of liability they want resolved. A number of legal claims have been lodged.

“Secondly, because it did involve infrastructure on the wind farm, it’s important to see if lessons can be learnt.

“From what we believe happened, a bird catching fire on a powerline, it poses broader issues of community protection.”

Dr Crawford hoped any inquiry would expose whether Infigen Energy had prior knowledge of fire risk and if it had done anything to prevent further occurrences.

Several prominent landowners, including the most affected, Tim De Mestre, who owns the property ‘Merigan’ some 14km from Tarago on the Bungendore Road, called for the probe. Goulburn MP Pru Goward also backed the move, saying the matter was urgent.

Victoria-based Maddens Lawyers is acting for Mr De Mestre and 26 other property owners in a NSW Supreme Court class action against Infigen Energy.

Senior lawyer Chris McDonald said the action claimed the fire would not have occurred if the overhead 33kV high voltage line that transferred electricity from Infigen’s Woodlawn Wind Farm to a substation at their Capital Wind Farm “had been properly constructed”.

The law firm also contended that simple and inexpensive design modifications to the lines’ configuration would have avoided the fire, along with mitigation steps that had been implemented after the blaze.

The firm has engaged an independent rural loss assessor to value claims.

The matter is set down for mediation in the Supreme Court on December 7 before Justice Garling. Mr McDonald said if it was not resolved, the case would proceed to trial.

“If the Coroner makes a determination to hold an inquiry in relation to the cause and circumstances of the fire, Maddens Lawyers will seek leave to appear for our clients who are victims of the fire,” Mr McDonald said.

Infigen Energy has rejected the claims and previously said it would fully cooperate with any coronial inquiry.

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