EnergySafety investigator can’t pinpoint Toodyay fire source
ELECTRICITY watchdog EnergySafety has cleared Western Power of causing last Decembers devastating Toodyay fire, which destroyed 38 homes and nearly 3000ha of bush. EnergySafety director Ken Bowron said while a “rigorous and independent” investigation had failed to determine the cause of the fire, Western Power had not been at fault.
“Certainly, our findings clear Western Power,” he said. “Our investigations clearly show that there was not a pole-top fire, and they clearly show that the poles were burnt down, rather than falling down and causing the fire.” He said while arc marks had been found on power lines 14 metres from one of the power poles close to the area of the fire, it was unable to be determined if or how the lines clashed with one another or if that had triggered the blaze.
The report’s findings, which were released today, revealed investigators had been unable to determine the exact point of origin of the fire. The “area of origin” as determined by the report was in a paddock south of River Road and west of Folewood Road, around 7km from Toodyay. Mr Bowron said while the power lines and poles were around 35 years old, Western Power had met the required safety and design standards of the time. “It was built probably 35 years ago, so design standards have changed in the time, but as of the day it was built to those,” he said.
“They’re built to a different standard (today), and the newer standards are generally to a safer standard.” Mr Bowron said the investigation showed Western Power had “responded well and responsibly”. “We had an electrical engineer and a senior inspector on site the day after the fire,” he said.
“This was followed up by several more site visits by experienced engineers and electrical inspectors to collect and assess evidence. “While the Fire and Emergency Services Authority and Police arson investigators identified the area of origin of the bushfire, all the evidence confirms that Western Power’s electricity distribution poles in the area were all standing but burning, well after the fire front had passed.”
Western Power managing director Doug Aberle said he was “relieved” the report had cleared Western Power of being at fault. “The report has exhausted all possibilities that might have associated the fire with electricity,” he said. “We were concerned at the beginning that it looked like we may have been involved, so it’s certainly a relief to find that the report has so comprehensively cleared the asset.” Mr Aberle said the poles had passed an inspection shortly before the fire.
He said Western Power was committed to extending its pole replacement program, with over 10,000 wooden poles set to be replaced across the state this year, and a target of 15,000 per year for the near future. He said the report had helped clear up the early indications that a fallen pole had caused the fire, which he described at the time as “probable”.
“It was really a matter of recognising that it was a possibility, given the point at which the fire started, and I thought it was important that people in Toodyay understood that if it was associated with our asset, we would support them,” he said.
The full report can be read and downloaded at www.energysafety.wa.gov.au.