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Buck passed as couple lose nest egg
The West Australian Alan and Francoise Morris sit amid their blue gum plantations which were destroyed by fire. Picture: Kate Bastians/ The West Australian

A retired couple say they are $300,000 out of pocket after a fire started by a State Government logging contractor destroyed their blue gum plantation.

Alan and Francoise Morris had uninsurable losses, including the plantation worth $80,000, when the blaze tore through their Nannup property in March.

The plantation was their retirement nest egg and futile efforts to get compensation have left them frustrated and angry.

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws reveal a Department of Environment and Conservation investigation found the fire's probable cause was the machinery of a Forest Products Commission contractor.

It found the tracked machinery was known to cause fires.

"The DEC investigation concluded that only one potential cause of ignition was present at the time the bushfire started - the FPC contract machinery," the report said.

The DEC found the FPC failed to abide by guidelines to have a heavy duty fire unit on site, despite a high fire danger risk that day.

It also found the FPC failed to tell the contractor he had to stay for an hour after shutting down the machinery and inspect the site.

The operator stayed for 35 minutes, did not inspect the site and left on a road which did not give a full view of the gully the fire started in.

Emails between senior FPC staff reveal they were worried about "potential liability claims" from the fire. Also, a senior DEC officer's email to the FPC said: "I suggest at this stage (the fire cause report) is used for your purposes and not distributed widely due to the possible/ likely claims for damages."

An FPC spokeswoman said compensation claims should be directed to the contractor's insurer - Lumley Insurance.

In a letter last month, Lumley's lawyers SRB Legal said the firm did not accept responsibility and pointed to laws governing the FPC, which it believed gave the contractor a "complete defence".

SRB Legal believes the section prevents legal action against a contractor acting "in good faith".

But an FPC spokeswoman said the section was designed to protect its employees, not its contractors.

Mrs Morris broke down in tears as she described the couple's battle with bureaucracy and said she had taken medication to "suppress feelings of rage and anxiety".

The couple say they do not have the $120,000 quoted for litigation, a move Premier Colin Barnett's office suggested.

Shadow bushfire response minister Margaret Quirk said the couple were in a "catch 22 situation".

"Why does the FPC insist its contractors are insured for public liability if they can exempt themselves under the FPC Act," she said.

'Only one potential cause of ignition was present at the time the bushfire started.'" *DEC fire report *