Faulty power lines fuel fire fears


FIREFIGHTERS in the Main Ridge-Red Hill area are alarmed that the succession of fires starting under powerlines will continue through the next several months, into the drier high-risk fire period.

The big fear of some is that the next fire in the sequence of the eight or so blazes in the area so far – blamed on faulty bundled cabling currently now being replaced – will occur in dense bush and not be noticed until it has become a serious menace.

“I can’t sleep on these windy nights, when conditions are right to set off the fires,” one veteran said. “So far they have been brought under control quickly. But it’s just been a matter of luck.

“How long will our luck last? When will a fire start at night in a remote area and really get going before it’s spotted?”

Faulty insulation has been blamed for the fires, which appear to occur when heat from the cables causes the aerial bundled cable (ABC) lines literally to explode, dumping hot material on the ground and starting the fires.

The fire-fighting volunteer, who did not want to be named, said United Energy, responsible for Victoria’s electricity poles and wires, had not responded to fireys’ questions about the outbreaks. Volunteers are now keeping records of these fires in case evidence is required for any subsequent inquiry.

The volunteer said no fires had occurred under the old style single strand wiring. “It’s only the bundled stuff, it seems,” he said. “Lots of blokes in the crews replacing it are pretty browned off – we believe the insulation changes colour from black to grey when it’s exposed to sunlight.”

United Energy contractors have been seen using what they have told fireys is a heat-detecting device to examine possibly faulty lines, he said. “But this is a 10-year program and it’s barely under way.”

Main Creek residents wrote to United Energy last November about the fires, demanding that the company “maintain and preserve all records in relation to the acquisition and purchase of [the apparently faulty power lines], and in respect of any fires that might occur as a result of the failure of such power lines”.

As previously reported (“No quick fix for power grid”, The News 15/12/15) many of the cables are estimated to be up to 30 years old. It is believed only a fraction of the work will be done by the end of this bushfire season with the remainder being done on a priority basis by 2020.

But some bundled cables in the Red Hill area that have gone up in the past four or five years are among the wiring being replaced.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 12 January 2016


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