The Tathra bushfire during its peak on Sunday. Photograph: Chris Bowles
04 Apr 2018

Faulty power lines likely cause of Tathra bushfire in New South Wales, Australia

Forest Fires
Fire Investigation
Communication Group

Photo: (Above) The Tathra bushfire during its peak on Sunday. Photograph by Chris Bowles

Power lines were the likely cause of the devastating bushfire that swept through the small town of Tathra on the New South Wales south coast on Sunday, a preliminary investigation has found. This, according to reports from The Guardian´s Australia Edition.

The investigation by the Rural Fire Service has found “electrical infrastructure on Reedy Swamp Road” as the likely cause.

The finding, outlined in a three-paragraph media statement on Thursday afternoon, will prompt renewed questions about the maintenance of power infrastructure by the NSW government-owned company, Essential Energy.

Earlier on Thursday, the Electrical Trades Union said there were “serious questions to answer” over cuts to funding for power line maintenance in the state.

The union alleged that, over the last seven years, Essential Energy had sacked almost 40% of its workforce, underspent on its operating expenditure by $129m and slashed capital expenditure by 38% since 2012 due to restrictions imposed by the Australian Energy Regulator.

The ETU’s NSW assistant secretary, Justin Page, said the funding cuts “may be placing the public at serious risk”.

“The NSW government has been focused on cutting costs at Essential Energy, including slashing maintenance and capital works expenditure, while at the same time maximising profit,” he said.

“The NSW government, as owner of this ageing and complex network, and the Australian Energy Regulator should be focused on safety and reliability ahead of cost cutting, which is not currently the case, leading to potential impacts on network reliability and public safety.”

Residents are continuing a staggered return to their homes in the bushfire-ravaged town on NSW’s far south coast.

The fire destroyed 65 houses and 35 caravans and cabins, and damaged 48 houses. There were 810 saved or untouched. Some 166 people have been rehoused in temporary accommodation by Family and Community Services. Hundreds more are staying with friends and family, awaiting permission to return to their homes.

The removal of asbestos in affected homes is expected to begin on Thursday and extend into next week. The remainder of the clean-up in the town could take until the end of April.

Tathra residents reel as bushfire engulfs homes: ‘I grabbed the dog, some photos, and we got out’

Those who have lost their homes may have to spend up to 18 months in temporary accommodation, according to the recovery coordinator, Euan Ferguson.

“We are not talking months. Generally, this is a 12-18 months process at best,” he told the ABC on Thursday. “There will be some frustrations.”

Two inquiries into the fire will now be held. One will be headed by former federal police chief Mick Keelty and another will held in the coroner’s court.

The handling of the fire has prompted numerous questions. Poor mobile reception hampered efforts to get warnings to residents, as did a loss of power. The site is a notorious black spot for mobile phone coverage and has been earmarked as a priority site for upgrades under the federal government’s mobile black spot program. Despite that, no infrastructure upgrades have yet been made.

The Rural Fire Service has also been forced to defend its decision to reject two offers of help during the fire’s early stages, made by its urban firefighting counterpart, Fire and Rescue NSW. The decision has prompted a furious war of words between the union representing Fire and Rescue members and the RFS.

Essential Energy has been contacted for a response.