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Australia Dunalley fire victims launch massive class action over devastating 2013 blaze

09:50  16 december  2019
09:50  16 december  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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a view of a city at sunset: A bushfire encroaches on the waterfront at Dunalley, south east Tasmania, where community members sought safety during the blaze. (Supplied)© Provided by ABC NEWS A bushfire encroaches on the waterfront at Dunalley, south east Tasmania, where community members sought safety during the blaze. (Supplied)

Hundreds of people who lost property during the Dunalley bushfires in 2013 have joined a class action to sue the two people they blame for starting the original blaze.

The Dunalley blaze on January 3 destroyed 93 houses and 186 other buildings, including Dunalley's school and police station.

The plaintiffs are alleging in court documents that two people were negligent by lighting or failing to put out a fire in a tree stump on a property at a Forcett property in December 2012.

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The 443 plaintiffs involved in the action allege this is where the devastating Dunalley blaze began.

The plaintiffs are alleging that on December 28 2012, a campfire was lit in a tree stump at the Forcett property.

They are alleging that dirt was kicked over it and that two half-buckets of water were poured over the stump that night, with the belief that the fire had been extinguished.

Dunalley fire© ABC Dunalley fire

The plaintiffs claim that between December 28 and 31, work was done in the area around the tree stump, and at the same time the fire continued within the tree stump and its roots as a smouldering burn.

Documents filed with the court show the plaintiffs are alleging that when rain fell on the property on January 1, 2013, one of the two people who lit the fire or had knowledge of it saw steam coming from the tree stump and the ground around it.

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Plaintiffs allege fire seen spreading

On January 3, weather conditions changed.

The plaintiffs contend in court documents that one of the two being sued saw fire in the grass around the tree stump, and that fire spread across the property to trees on the eastern boundary and escaped into the bush.

It took until January 18 for the Forcett fire to be fully contained, and by that stage it had burnt about 25,000 hectares, with a perimeter of almost 310 kilometres.

It is contended the two largest employers in the Dunalley region, a timber business and abalone business, experienced losses that caused ongoing significant impacts on the local region and economy.

About 300 Aurora electricity poles were destroyed on the Tasman Peninsula, causing power outages for a considerable time.

The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR) said losses in primary production included 15 large farms in the Forcett region, which suffered significant damage, with one estimating the cost at $1 million.

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Dunalley fire© ABC Dunalley fire

Others farms lost pasture, livestock, buildings, homes, fencing, sheds.

According to the AIDR, nine oyster farms were affected by fire and suffered damages estimated at $3 million.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimated the preliminary damage of the Tasmanian fires at $89 million.

The class action is divided into three separate claims because the plaintiffs are covered by three separate insurance companies.

It is expected to go to hearing in Supreme Court of Tasmania in Hobart in the middle of next year.

That hearing is likely to be heard two parts, with one to assess liability, and another to assess any damages.

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