New evidence revealed in a Coronial brief will form the basis of a major class action launched in the Supreme Court today by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, in relation to the 2009 Black Saturday Murrindindi bushfire that destroyed much of Marysville.
Class Actions Principal at Maurice Blackburn, Andrew Watson, said the action will allege the fire started as a result of a poorly constructed electricity line which is now believed to have started the blaze.
"Maurice Blackburn was recently granted access to the Coroner's brief and we are filing a writ in the Supreme Court taking action against SP AusNet for failure to properly inspect and maintain the infrastructure that is now believed to have started that fire," Mr Watson said.
"There is new evidence to support a claim on behalf of the victims of this tragic fire, and we think they have a strong claim for compensation given what has now come to light.
"We've been instructed by the plaintiff to initiate proceedings in the hope that he, and all those who lost so much, can receive the justice and the answers they've been unable to access until now.
"These actions are important not just for delivering justice and deserved compensation to those affected, but they are crucial in establishing why tragedies like this occurred so that remedial action can be taken to ensure they never have to happen again."
Original police investigations focussed on arson but these were discontinued.
New evidence shows that a poorly constructed and maintained electricity pole, allowed insufficient clearance between a live conductor and an earthed and incorrectly insulated stay wire.
In hot and windy conditions, such as those on Black Saturday, the live conductor came into direct contact with the earthed stay wire causing arcing, which weakened the conductor causing it to break.
The broken but still live conductor then fell on to a fence, causing the fence to be temporarily electrified, which is believed to have started the fire.
"There should have been at least a 450mm gap between the conductor and the stay wire, and the stay wire should have been properly insulated. Neither occurred, which allowed the conductor to fail. Both problems should have been detected during the course of cyclical inspections of the network and rectified long before the conductor broke," Mr Watson said.
Relevant standards specify a minimum distance between a conductor and an earthed stay wire of 450mm, while the SP AusNet inspection manual specifies an absolute minimum clearance between a conductor and an earthed structure of 280mm, with a required "normal" minimum distance of 450mm.
There is evidence that the actual distance was entirely insufficient, at only 70mm in normal conditions and down to 0mm with the temperature and winds on February 7, 2009.
Persons and businesses who suffered physical or psychological injury, property or economic loss or damage, and the dependants and estates of people who died in the Murrindindi bushfire are automatically part of the class action. Towns affected by this bushfire include:
If you are a person or a business affected by this bushfire, and would like to register with us please contact:
Bushfire Class Action Centre
Level 10/456 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: 1800 182 645
Registration is free and without obligation. You are a group member if you suffered the type of losses described as a result of the fire.
The Murrindindi bushfire caused the second-highest number of losses of all the devastating Black Saturday bushfires, killing 40 people and destroying 538 houses. It also destroyed most of Marysville's public assets, including its primary school and police station.
Eventually the fire merged with the Kilmore East blaze, and between them the fires burnt 168,542 hectares.
Maurice Blackburn is also undertaking a major class action on behalf of more than 1,500 people who were victims of Black Saturday's Kilmore East - Kinglake fire, which killed 119 people and destroyed 1242 houses.
That class action is scheduled to begin in January 2013 and is expected to run in excess of five months.