Stronger regulation urged in Australia to prevent fires caused by power lines

Power lines that are not properly maintained have been responsible for starting many large devastating fires, have killed people, and destroyed thousands of homes.

As we reported on October 30, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) agreed to a settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission to pay $14.3 million for starting the Witch, Rice, and Guejito fires in eastern San Diego County in 2007. The company was also ordered by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to apologize to the PUC for obstruction of their wildfire investigations. The PUC earlier fined SDG&E $1 million for withholding information from the PUC about the Sunrise Powerlink proposal, where concerns about future wildfires were noted in many public comments against the proposal. SDG&E power lines have also started other large fires, including the 1970 Laguna fire which killed eight people and burned 175,000 acres between Mt. Laguna and El Cajon, California.

And on December 12 Wildfire Today told you that the City of San Francisco agreed to pay the federal government $7 million for two fires in 1999 and 2004 that burned 5,698 acres and were caused by their power lines.

Power lines in Australia

Some of the fires in Australia on Black Saturday last February were caused by power lines. The Age has an article about an investigation or Royal Commission that is studying those fires. Here is an excerpt.


Stronger power line fire-safety strategies urged

DEATHS in bushfires that were caused by power lines showed a huge failure to regulate electricity companies, the Bushfires Royal Commission has heard.

Energy Safe Victoria, or a similar organisation, should be made explicitly responsible for fire-safety strategies for power lines, said Graeme Hodge, of Monash University.

Professor Hodge faced questioning over a claim in his statement that ”… most observers would argue [that], to the degree that some of the state’s bushfires were a consequence of Victoria’s electricity infrastructure, citizens suffered a significant regulatory failure … it has been the indirect safety concerns around electricity transmission and distribution systems that appear to have failed.”

Professor Hodge has a background in the regulation of utilities, particularly electricity. He told the inquiry there was a difference between passive and active regulation and that some systems ”appear to have regulatory strength but it’s a ritual that they are going through”.


More articles about power lines and fire danger can be found by clicking on our “power line” tag.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.