View Comments
Power pole blamed for $13m Hills fire
Picture: The West Australian/Steve Ferrier

Fire Commissioner Wayne Gregson wants a review of the system that allows private poles on properties in the wake of the Hills fire that destroyed 52 homes and caused at least $13m damage.

Hills Inferno - Full Coverage

Investigators believe the fire was sparked by a fallen power pole on private property, which remain the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain.

Thousands of private power poles are spread across the State, and have already been blamed for sparking a bushfire last January which threatened houses in Chidlow.

Speaking on ABC radio, Mr Gregson suggested the time had come to review the responsibilities on homeowners to maintain poles on their land.

“(The cause) would appear to be a power pole on private property, and they are the responsibility of the landowner,” he said.

“That begs a whole range of questions. How do they know about the potential damage? How do they get that ticked off as sound? How often do they do that? Who oversees that?

“And is it fair and reasonable to expect an owner to be responsible for that type of infrastructure?“

At a community meeting this morning, Hills resident Matthew Leverington, 21, who thinks his Stoneville house survived, said private power poles should be inspected.

“It should be inspected and said 'no this is not up to standards and you need to sort this out or we'll cut power out from the line or you'll be fined',” Mr Leverington said.

“There needs to be some sort of consequence because this can't go on.”

Resident Matthew Leverington, says private power lines must be inspected. Picture: Kate Ferguson/The West Australian

Firefighters who risked their lives trying to save homes in the firestorm are frustrated some homeowners are not doing enough to prevent bushfires spreading.

As the fire was brought under control, and residents were allowed back into the fire zone to assess damage, Mr Gregson said he agreed with firefighters who told him some householders were simply not doing enough to prevent the bushfire threat.

Insurers say the damage bill from the fire is likely to exceed $13m.

Mr Gregson told ABC radio: “I don't think they are doing enough, and we have still have people having wonderful houses with the tree line right up to the house.“I have spoken to some of the volunteers who are still amazed that householders are leaving things to the last minute, who do not have plan, who not know what to do.“This is not just about the weekend - (the message is) you are leaving it too late, you are not reducing the risk, and the consequences are likely to be severe.”
Picture: Ben Crabtree/The West Australian
Small groups of owners will be escorted through the fire-ravaged area by emergency authorities, with residents likely to be allowed in on their own later in the week.At a community meeting this morning there was applause from residents when they were told the fire is contained and controlled.Department of Fire and Emergency Services superintendent Stuart Wade said there were still hot spots and firefighters were trying to put them out before 38 degree temperatures and windy conditions predicted for Saturday.DFES deputy commissioner Lloyd Bailey said some residents were being taken to the fire zone to see their destroyed properties.
Firefighters in the fire zone. Picture: Department of Fire and Emergency Services
He said permits would be given to residents to enter a "warm zone" this afternoon to see their homes. The "warm zone" is outside the fire-ravaged area, which is the "hot zone".The hot zone is unlikely to be declared safe until Friday.Mr Bailey said power may still be off at homes."To those who haven't lost homes, you'll experience a range of emotions. But please don't feel any guilt that your homes survived and others didn't," he told the meeting.He asked them to support neighbours who had lost homes."We encourage people not to go to homes through 'back roads'," he said.Western power has restored power to about half of the 2000 homes that lost power.Residents going into fire affected areas have been warned about fallen lines.
The shape of the Hills fire zone. Picture: Robb Scott/7 News/Twitter
The Insurance Council of Australia said insurers had already received almost 300 claims, after 52 houses and two sheds were destroyed.Campbell Fuller, the ICA's general manager of communications, said insurance companies were pouring every available resource into trying to help affected residents.Insurance assessors were already aiming to get access to the fire grounds today to try to speed up claims for residents who lost homes.A disaster recovery specialist from the council was also on the way to WA to assist in the aftermath.The ICA has declared a catastrophe to escalate the insurance industry's response.DFES this morning issued a watch and act advice for the eastern part of Parkerville, Stoneville and Mount Helena in the Shire of Mundaring.The bushfire is contained and under control but DFES warns of flare ups caused by gusty winds expected later in the day.Firefighters are continuing to strengthen containment lines to ensure the area is completely blacked out.Crews will also conduct backburning.The alert level will remain until all suppression activities have been completed.Nearly a dozen people were forced to sleep at the emergency evacuation centre set up in nearby Swan View, with dozens more displaced families relying on the goodwill of friends and family. Stories of bravery and countless close calls emerged yesterday as homeowners and firefighters described the horrific, life-threatening fire that bore down on them.
Sawyers Valley Bushfire Brigade captain, Lesley Harvey with her fire fighter son, Kean Ball-Hornblow, 22, who lost everything when his rental home was destroyed. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian
Almost 400 firefighters and 100 appliances were involved in fighting the unpredictable Perth Hills blaze, and those on the fire front described the scenes as heartbreaking and ferocious.Residents felt despair and chaos yesterday as a community meeting were told the latest fire information.A father and son turned fire saviours after using fire extinguishers to save their home.A homeowner told of his futile attempts to stop the fire at its source.
Fire damaged houses in Matthews Road, stoneville . Picture: Ben Crabtee/The West Australian
A bushfire advice remains for people in the northern part of Mundaring and Sawyers Valley and the western part of Chidlow in the Shire of Mundaring and the western part of Gidgegannup in the City of Swan.After fleeing his Matthews Way rental property, which later went up in flames, Sawyers Valley volunteer Kean Ball-Hornblow spent the rest of the day fighting the fire."It got too bad so I had to leave. It just happened so quickly, the fire moved straight up the hill and took everything in its path," he said.Mr Ball-Hornblow returned yesterday to find his home had been destroyed.Anguish, courage | Tears, fears | VIDEO: Heartbreak | VIDEO: Survival | FULL COVERAGE "I've been back in to have a look, there's not much left . . . nothing can be salvaged. I got one bag with some clothes, my dog and my car. That's it."
Firefighters work in the orange glow and smoke of the Hills fire. Picture: Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
His mother, Sawyers Valley Bushfire Brigade captain Lesley Harvey, said volunteers felt powerless against the 20m-high flames."Unless people had their houses prepared, which a lot didn't, there wasn't a lot we could do. It made a lot of our guys speechless because we had never seen so much destruction," she said.The tireless effort of volunteers was incredible."Many people are on their second shift now, and they'll put their hand up for a third if they have to," Ms Harvey said.Fire teams saved several people from their homes after it became too late for them to flee.Farmer Michael O'Brien, who was on holiday in the area from Broomehill, was part of a search and rescue group who helped several residents who were trapped. "There were houses going up everywhere," he said.
A motorbike sits in the debris of a garage in Matthews Road. Picture: Ben Crabtree /The West Australian.

"Everyone was a bit panicky, the back of the houses and roofs were on fire, people were wandering around in their backyard with buckets and hoses."They didn't know what they were doing, they were running in and out of houses. The smoke was absolutely horrible."Former City of Swan deputy bushfire chief Greg Dunstan, who has 18 years firefighting experience, stayed at his home on Avoca Glen and saved both his and his neighbour's properties. "I got the fire unit out and fought a few spot fires on my neighbour's place and then worked on my place. I put out anything I could," he said."The second front that came through got within 5m, so if I wasn't there to defend the house, it would have gone up."It was very hot and very fast moving, I was looking at 20-30m flame height at the back here."The heat and the roar was pretty intense."Mr Dunstan said not all residents had been adequately prepared for the threat of a bushfire."Preparing your house is a 12-month process, it's not something you can do five minutes before a fire," he said.Sawyers Valley volunteer Andrew Pankhurst said the scene was heartbreaking. "It doesn't matter which way you'd turn, you would run out of water and you'd return to find you were back where you started," he said.