Repairs will cut power in risky fire zone

Powercor last week told 400 residents in Musk of a planned power outage.
Powercor last week told 400 residents in Musk of a planned power outage.

HUNDREDS of people living in one of the state's high-risk fire zones will have their electricity cut off for repairs to power lines on Thursday, despite a total fire ban on the area.

Electricity distributor Powercor last week told 400 residents in Musk - near high bushfire risk area Daylesford - of a planned power outage from 9am until 3pm on Thursday, while workers replaced electric poles.

The Country Fire Authority's website on Tuesday night declared a total fire ban on the area and warned it carried a ''severe'' fire rating on Thursday.

''At this point in time work is continuing,'' Powercor spokesman Hugo Armstrong said. ''We've looked very carefully at the conditions and … had discussions with the CFA and we are confident the work can be undertaken safely for the community and our own employees.

''We will continue to monitor conditions through the morning and will take advice from the CFA if the situation changes.''

A CFA spokeswoman said its regulations allowed all utility companies to complete work that did not include ''hot work'', including welding, cutting and angle grinding on total fire ban days.

She said that groups could also get permits to do ''hot work'' on such days, which contained heavy safety restrictions.

Member for Ballarat East Geoff Howard said most of the residents in the area relied on electricity to access water pumps, and that while many would have back-up petrol pumps in the event of a fire, an outage would be an ''added stress''.

''They've got less options in terms of reducing the risk around their property without the power being on,'' Mr Howard said.

''I would have thought Powercor would simply say 'In high-risk fire areas we want to ensure we do our inspections well ahead of the fire seasons, so if there is maintenance work identified it's done ahead of the fire season, not during it.'''

Mr Armstrong said the area had been inspected late last year, when it was decided that two power poles, several cross-arms and other repairs should be completed within 18 weeks. Forty workers will be assigned to the job.

Mr Armstrong said the company was not required as part of its protocol to consult with the CFA and other emergency services to decide on the timing of repairs but that it would continue to monitor conditions up until and on the day.

''This work is about making the network safer in that area … The chances of this work going ahead in such a way it might endanger lives is minimal, but in the worst of all circumstances, if there was a fire started somewhere the CFA would let us know and if action needs to be taken spontaneously then it will be done.''

Jim Culbertson, whose Daylesford farm was hit by a bushfire in 2009, said it was ''outrageous'' that Powercor was proceeding with its repairs on a total fire ban day. ''That seems to me to say the risks for the community are high. If the CFA is saying there is no added risk by taking people's power away, they're sadly very wrong about that,'' he said.

This story Repairs will cut power in risky fire zone first appeared on The Age.