The West

Disaster sparks power-cut call
Aftermath: Firefighter Bob Affleck in Parkerville. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

The State Government could come under pressure to consider a plan for power supplies to be turned off in certain areas to lower the risk of bushfires in catastrophic conditions.

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Energy safety experts are understood to be in favour of pre-emptively cutting electricity to "localised" areas given poles and wires are a major source of damaging blazes. Victorians are locked in a fierce debate about the merits of switching off supplies. South Australia adopted the policy after the deadly 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.

On Sunday, more than 50 homes were destroyed in the Perth Hills suburbs of Parkerville and Stoneville after a privately owned power pole fell in hot and windy conditions.

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Sources said fires caused by poles and wires were common - accounting for up to 4 per cent of bushfires a year - and it was only circumstances that dictated whether they became disastrous.

They said deliberately cutting supplies in the highest risk areas ahead of particularly dangerous conditions lowered the risk, although acknowledged the policy would not always be popular.

In Victoria, opinions are divided over the issue after the Bushfire Royal Commission into the 2009 Black Saturday inferno recommended the policy be adopted.

Doctors say switching residents' power off would leave them exposed to heat-related conditions and residents say it would deprive them of their landlines and internet at times of crisis.

Bushfire expert Roger Underwood said the idea had merit because the risks of power poles and wires starting fires increased markedly in extreme conditions.

However, the Bushfire Front chairman said the Government would need to be "very careful" if it ever pursued the policy, noting many people would need time to install independent supplies.

Energy Minister Mike Nahan said it was "hard to see a situation" where power supplies would be cut to reduce bushfire risks given the "significant impact to the community".

Acting shadow emergency services minister Kate Doust echoed the comments, saying other options including putting power underground should be examined.

Western Power said it was not considering such a policy, instead noting it had spent $250 million in the past year alone on bushfire "mitigation" measures.

The West Australian

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