SEVERAL farmers within the Shire of Victoria Plains have raised concerns about fires allegedly being sparked by Western Power power poles and lines in the region.
The anxiety comes more than two years after the Mogumber fire which started on December 15, 2019 and burnt through five farms in the region.
Western Power is being sued for negligence over the fire, after one of its power poles allegedly sparked the blaze.
Sheep and cropping farmer Marty Van Beek's farm was one of those affected by the fire, with about 80 per cent of his property burnt through, costing him about $150,000 after insurance, not counting lost productivity or the effect of soil erosion on his property.
"We lost 16 kilometres of fencing, all our straw was ready for bailing for the pigs, so then we had to go and source 1500 bales from somewhere else at a huge cost and we had to move all of the stock off the property onto agistment," Mr Van Beek said.
"We have photos of paddocks just blowing across the road, so the impact of that fire was just shocking."
Over the past three years Mr Van Beek alleges he has had two more fires caused by Western Power poles on his property, with the most recent fire occurring only a few weeks ago.
"In February the lines came off the insulator and clashed and that started a fire, but we were pretty lucky because it was right next to a fire break, so it didn't jump the fire break into the neighbour's place," Mr Van Beek said.
"There wasn't much wind at all, it was fairly damp, and it was early in the morning so we jumped on it straight away.
"Because of that we only lost about a hectare of stubble and two bales of straw."
He alleges that the other fire on his property was ignited by a pole top fire three years ago.
"There shouldn't have been any dust on the insulators to cause a fire and I think they replaced the pole next to it the year before, but never replaced the pole that actually caught fire," Mr Van Beek said.
"We lost about 15 hectares of standing crop and after insurance that fire cost us about $25,000."
Given the recent run of devastating fires in Corrigin, Wickepin, Hopetoun and Denmark, Mr Van Beek said fire danger was at the forefront of people's minds.
The owner of 6677ha of land spread across five different blocks in the Shire of Victoria Plains, Mr Van Beek said getting things back up and running again after the Mogumber fire had been a major struggle for those affected - financially, emotionally and mentally.
"We haven't pursued it any further with Western Power because it takes its toll - we shouldn't have to battle like this or jump through so many hoops," Mr Van Beek said.
"Unless you can prove that Western Power has been negligent under the Energy Act you can't have a go at them, and they just continue to say that they are not at fault for these fires - it's incredibly frustrating.
"We have power poles all over our property so it's a damn worry.
"We've had three fires in three years, so you just wonder when it's going to stop."
Another farmer in the Mogumber region, Tim Nixon alleges that over 10 years he's had five fires sparked by Western Power poles which he estimates, combined, affected about 160 hectares of his property.
"The hot spot has been on our 240ha block of land east of the Mogumber townsite which is mainly cropped and has livestock on it in summer," Mr Nixon said.
"I think two fires were probably from a lack of maintenance, one was probably from the power lines clashing and one of the fires actually started in the Mogumber reserve from a power pole and then spread onto our place once the fire started that was on another 400ha block we have just north of Mogumber."
Mr Nixon said the past two fires that had occurred, including one just last month, had affected less than a couple of hectares because they had been spotted and extinguished quickly.
"Since there have been a few fires in our area I think Western Power has been trying a bit harder and been more frequent in checking the poles," Mr Nixon said.
The Nationals WA MP for Moore Shane Love said he continued to hear from farmers within the electorate who had safety concerns around Western Power's network in their region.
"There is a lot of anxiety in this particular patch in Mogumber where there is a legal matter happening now," Mr Love said.
"I attended the debrief meeting that was held at the community hall following the Mogumber fire and it was very evident at that meeting that people felt the cause was the Western Power line.
"There just doesn't seem to be enough attention paid to energy power safety in the Western Power network because these fires happen all too frequently.
"Even just recently there was two mils of rain at Binnu and there were about 10 pole top fires from that.
"My understanding is that most of those poles had been put up after Cyclone Seroja in April last year, so for Western Power to blame it on accumulated dust and salt over the years isn't correct.
"That's a damning indictment."
Mr Love said the damage caused by fires on farming properties also often wasn't recoverable through insurance.
"It isn't just the loss of sheds, water tanks or whatever infrastructure there might be - it could be the loss of a whole generation of animals, a severe hit to the fertility of the soil following chemical processes that take place and wind erosion which can undo years and years of hard work," Mr Love said.
"From the experiences I've seen of those impacted by fires, that never seems to be compensated for."
Mr Love said the Western Power network needed to be looked at holistically to see if there were better and safer ways the corporation could provide power to its customers.
"It might be less power lines going out to farms, whole sections of the network being replaced with standalone areas or it might be looking at different types of poles used by other countries," Mr Love said.
"For the network to be maintained and developed in the same way, year after year, and for these sorts of things to keep on happening, it just beggars belief.
"My fear is that there could be a repeat of something like the Toodyay fire if these issues aren't addressed."
Mogumber farmers Tom and Kaye Kelly, who are both almost 80 years old, have engaged lawyer Kevin Banks-Smith to file a legal claim in the Supreme Court of Western Australia against Western Power for more than $2 million in losses caused by the Mogumber fire.
Mr Banks-Smith told Farm Weekly he believed the Kelly's had a very strong case against the corporation, based on evidence gathered around the condition of Western Power's power poles.
Responding to Farm Weekly's questions regarding the safety of the network, a Western Power spokesperson said each year the corporation undertook extensive bushfire preparedness and mitigation works in the Mid West, including the Shire of Victoria Plains, ahead of the bushfire season, to minimise fire risk and associated impacts on the network.
The spokesperson said this work included maintaining and replacing poles, insulator siliconing, washing and replacements and managing trees and vegetation near wires.
"We're also continuing our pole modeling research to improve our ability to predict periods of risk where weather may affect the network," the spokesperson said.
"This financial year in the Mid West region we're investing close to $10 million on bushfire mitigation, $1.8m on replacing conductors, almost $8m on pole replacement/reinforcement and $1m on vegetation management.
"We have increased insulator replacements and network maintenance and renewal to improve power reliability and help prevent pole top fires in the region."
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