Fire victims chase damages

Amanda Banks and Natasha Boddy

Margaret River bushfire victims, including prominent businessman Michael Chaney, have launched Supreme Court action against the State Government in a bid for damages that could run into millions of dollars.

The writ, filed last week, has been lodged on behalf of 41 plaintiffs and names the State of WA and Department of Environment and Conservation as defendants.

It says the property owners are claiming damages for "nuisance" and "negligence" that resulted in damage to their property in the fires that escaped from a prescribed burn known as BS520 near Margaret River on or about November 23, 2011.

No further details of the claim have been attached to the writ but it is expected that the lawsuit is likely to involve millions of dollars.

The November 2011 fire destroyed 32 homes and nine chalets and damaged another 16 properties.

The heritage-listed, multimillion-dollar Wallcliffe House on the banks of Margaret River, owned by Mr Chaney and his former wife Rose, was among the properties gutted.

A report into the fire by former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, released in February last year, said that the DEC had committed a "series of omissions and mistakes" in its management and imple- mentation of the prescribed burning program around Margaret River.

But the Keelty report found no person or group of people was to blame for the blaze.

At the time the report was tabled in State Parliament, Premier Colin Barnett announced a $5 million compensation scheme for bushfire victims that would cap payouts at $190,000 to cover uninsured losses.

Any payments from a separate distress fund were to be deducted from the compensation payouts.

In a statement to Parliament in November, Mr Barnett announced that after obtaining legal advice, the cap would be eliminated and the Government's self-insurer, RiskCover, would meet "all reasonable claims" for losses related to the fires.

Mr Barnett, the DEC and lawyers for the property owners involved in the legal action declined to comment yesterday.