Law firm Slater and Gordon is investigating a potential class action on behalf of residents and property owners affected by the devastating bushfire that ripped through Tathra this week.
The fire burnt through 1250 hectares, destroying at least 100 houses, cabins and caravans and damaging dozens more.
A preliminary investigation by the NSW Rural Fire Service on Thursday suggested electrical infrastructure on Reedy Swamp Road, Tarraganda was the likely cause.
Slater and Gordon practice group leader Rory Walsh said the firm is looking closely at whether the blaze could have been prevented.
“We have seen time and time again how bushfires can tear communities apart, but learning that such devastation could have been avoided adds another level of suffering,” Mr Walsh said.
“The initial investigations are likely to come down to the adequacy of the power pole inspection process, which has been a central issue in many of our other bushfire cases as well as the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission.
“We will be looking at whether Essential Energy adhered to stringent inspection and ongoing maintenance requirements and ultimately what could have been done to prevent this bushfire.”
Essential Energy on Friday responded to the RFS’s initial findings, saying its own preliminary understanding was that trees fell onto powerlines from outside designated clearances during the extreme weather conditions of Sunday’s bushfire event.
However, Essential Energy said its specialist internal investigators have not yet been able to fully access Reedy Swamp Road to conclusively determine the factors that impacted the network.
“Preliminary internal inquiries indicate network protection equipment activated as it should,” Essential CEO John Cleland said.
“An initial review also indicates that asset and vegetation inspections and maintenance in the vicinity of Reedy Swamp Road are up to date and in accordance with prescribed standards.
“Essential Energy crews have worked tirelessly, alongside other emergency services, to restore power as quickly as safety will allow and assist the community in their recovery efforts. Power was restored to all customers approximately 5pm on Thursday, March 22.”
Former Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty has been appointed to lead an independent inquiry into the management of the bushfire response. There will also be an official Coronial Inquest conducted to formally determine the cause of the fire.
Mr Walsh said Slater and Gordon will be closely examining the findings of those inquiries and is also planning to hold community meetings with affected residents and property owners.
“We have seen incredible resilience coming out of Tathra this week, but the aftermath of natural disasters is usually very uncertain for those affected,” Mr Walsh said.
“Working out where people stand legally and financially is an important part of rebuilding communities, but it can be incredibly difficult with many left out of pocket.”