Class action likely over State Mine fire

Dane's Way, Mr Irvine, where property was lost in the State Mine fire last October.

Dane's Way, Mr Irvine, where property was lost in the State Mine fire last October.

Leading a class action, Brendan Pendergast.

Leading a class action, Brendan Pendergast.

A report which found that Defence personnel were responsible for the State Mine bushfire which destroyed two homes at Mr Irvine and three others further west has added weight to fire victims' rights to compensation, according to a senior barrister.

Brendan Pendergast, the class action principal with Maddens Lawyers, said the inquiry highlighted a litany of errors and a disturbing lack of procedure and supervision at the Marangaroo Training Centre when it came to fire risk and bushfire prevention.

"The results of this report suggest the Defence Department's handling of fire risk at this site was, at best, disorganised and, and worst, cavalier," Mr Pendergast said.

He urged locals affected by the fires to make a claim. Maddens was offering victims a "no win, no fee" approach to its compensation claim advice, ensuring that victims would not lose out, regardless of the result.

"Any compensation payouts will be greater than any costs incurred," he said. "On the other hand, if the case doesn't stand up, there are no legal fees to pay."

Maddens is leading a class action on behalf of victims of the Springwood/Winmalee fire against Endeavour Energy, which it claims was responsible because of inadequate maintenance of trees. It also gained compensation for many survivors of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009.

Mr Pendergast said the Marangaroo report showed that, for as long as 20 years, " the department completely overlooked any recommendations or suggestions they implement bushfire prevention strategies at the site, even though the training ground had been identified as a huge risk".

"Even the NSW RFS had indicated the site was too risky for them to work at. Yet, still, the Defence Department made little, if no, efforts to rectify the situation."

Mr Pendergast said the cost of these oversights was now being paid for by the property owners burnt out by the fire. "People who had little knowledge of, and certainly no control over, what went on at the Marangaroo site are still today the ones that are paying the highest price for the inadequacies of the Defence Department," he said.

"People affected by this fire should not feel they need to 'wear' the costs and inconvenience the October 16 fire imposed."

He also suggested that fire victims often underestimated the full value of property lost in a bushfire, particularly when it came to the value of assets like trees, orchards and gardens, and the negative impact of the fire on properties, such as erosion.

He encouraged any victims of the State Mine fire to contact Maddens Lawyers, either via the firm's website (maddenslawyers.com.au) or the hotline (1800 815 228).

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