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Power pole owners face penalties
Inquiry: A Western Power investigator at Granite Road, Parkerville. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Landholders who fail to adequately maintain privately owned power poles and wires on their land could face criminal sanctions after the State Government flagged the possibility of a significant policy revamp.

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As the number of houses confirmed lost in the Parkerville blaze rose to 55, Energy Minister Mike Nahan ruled out making Western Power responsible for privately owned electricity infrastructure.

He said today there are up to 200,000 private power poles in WA that could potentially pose a fire risk if they are not properly maintained.

Mr Nahan told ABC radio Western Power was responsible for about 780,000 poles around WA and it should not be up to them to maintain the private poles.

Dr Nahan told The West Australian yesterday the Government would push to make landholders aware of their responsibilities and consider "requiring" them to keep poles and wires at a minimum standard.

The comments by Dr Nahan came after a power pole owned by 82-year-old Noreen Campbell toppled in hot and gusty conditions on Sunday, sparking the Parkerville bushfire.

Watchdog EnergySafety yesterday handed down the results of its preliminary investigation into the incident, finding that wires attached to a switchboard were damaged when the pole fell.

This caused sparks to fall to the ground and start the fire.

EnergySafety director Ken Bowron said Ms Campbell was unlikely to be charged because landholders were not legally bound to inspect and maintain private power assets.

Mr Bowron said property owners whose electricity assets failed and caused fires could be sued under civil law for damages but, invariably, they were not criminally liable.

"The requirement is that electrical infrastructure is tested and inspected when it is first put in service (but) there's no ongoing requirement from that," he said.

In a nod to the uncertainty of current arrangements, Dr Nahan said he was concerned many people were oblivious to their responsibilities.

But he rejected calls for network operators such as Western Power to take over management of private power assets, saying they had "enough on their plate".

Dr Nahan said the Government would focus on informing people of their responsibilities. It would also explore whether there should be penalties for landholders who did not maintain their lines. "I can say categorically neither Western Power nor Horizon Power will take on responsibility for the maintenance, inspections or upgrades of the poles," Dr Nahan said.

There have been calls this week, including from Fire and Emergency Service Commissioner Wayne Gregson, for a "discussion" on the management of private power infrastructure.

Poles and wires started 1.3 per cent of bushfires in 2012-13 and some property owners claim only the Government is equipped to oversee such an important public safety issue.

Mr Bowron said EnergySafety would prefer landholders put their power lines underground.