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Termite-ridden pole sparked Victorian fire

Energy Safety Victoria has released a damning report into the March 17 bushfires.A termite-infested power pole was so badly decayed it could not withstand strong winds, sparking one of several fires that devastated Victoria’s southwest on St Patrick’s Day.
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Energy Safety Victoria has released a damning report into the March 17 fire at Garvoc, finding the compromised pole should have been identified during a November inspection by distributor Powercor.

“The pole was significantly degraded and likely has been that way for many years,” the report reads.

“A competent inspection of the pole in 2017 would likely have found the same evidence of degradation that was present when it failed in March 2018 (and was observed during testing in May 2018).”

Energy Safety found “Powercor Australia Limited failed to identify that Pole four had a sizeable internal cavity” and that it still had active termites inside.

The pole had been inspected several times in 13 years.

The report concluded the pole snapped in wind and a high-voltage conductor hit the ground, sparking the vegetation.

A more formal investigation will be conducted into Powercor’s asset inspection practices and the current condition of poles in the region.

More than 160 fires broke out amid strong winds and hot weather on March 17, burning thousands of hectares and killing thousands of livestock.

Energy Safety released reports into four other fires in southwest Victoria, at Gazette, Gnotuk, Minjah and Warrnambool-Cobden, finding falling trees were to blame.

Maddens Lawyers is running four separate class actions over the March fires.

Victorian Farmer’s Federation President David Jochinke demanded any further recommendations be adopted urgently.

“Farmers have suffered losses as a result of these fires and need to be compensated,” he said in a statement.

“Our priority is the welfare of the farmers and ensuring steps are taken to prevent similar fires occurring in the future.”

A company spokeswoman said Powercor is reviewing the reports.

Powercor has also been hit with prosecutions by Energy Safety over three grass fires in January 2018 at Rochester, Port Campbell and Strathmerton, all caused by tree branches hitting powerlines.

Energy Safety has further charged Powercor with an additional 189 breaches of Electric Line Clearance regulations in a corridor that stretches from Mildura to Shepparton.

In each case, powerlines were either touching or very close to vegetation.

“We take safety issues very seriously and continuously seek to improve how we inspect vegetation clearances,” the Powercor spokeswoman said.

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