Thursday, December 31, 2009

'Natural disaster' fire not natural at all

The devastating Toodyay fire that destroyed 38 homes is not the "natural disaster" Premier Colin Barnett says it is:

Western Power's managing director Doug Aberle says it appears likely a single wooden transformer pole fell to the ground and sparked the fire.

"The conclusion is that somehow or other, the pole came down and it was probably the conductor coming down with it that sparked the fire," he said.

That's not to say Western Power is to blame, of course. But the electric utility does have an ongoing powerline fire problem, as this from 2004 shows:

Western Australia's acting Premier, Eric Ripper, says he will not tolerate Western Power being bloody-minded about a blaze that caused the death of two women in the Great Southern region.

Last month's fire in Tenterden claimed the lives of 59-year-old Judith Ward and 46-year-old Lorraine Melia.

In a report released yesterday, independent watchdog Energy Safety blamed faulty powerlines owned by Western Power for the blaze.

And there are accusations of inadequate maintenance:

State Opposition energy spokeswoman Kate Doust says Western Power has an appalling record in infrastructure maintenance.

"They just shut down a number of their contracts for power pole maintenance in the last few weeks and we've lost almost 200 workers that are involved in doing more maintenance throughout the state," she said.

"So if those workers aren't doing the job, I don't know who's out there doing power pole maintenance.

"So my understanding is that Western Power still have about 70,000 poles outstanding and about 3,500 of them should be demolished."

If it is eventually determined that the Toodyay fire was caused by powerlines, Western Power needs to immediately act to compensate those affected rather than attempt to stonewall or pull one of those we-have-bottomless-pockets-go-ahead-and-sue-us-and-see-where-it-gets-you maneuvers.


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