Scotsburn bushfire victims receive class action payouts five years after devastating blaze | Ralph-Lauren

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It has been five years since a bushfire tore through Trevor and Donna Hart’s property south of Ballarat, but trees burnt in the blaze are still collapsing.

In December 2015, the Scotsburn bushfire tore through 4,000 hectares of land and burnt 12 houses.

The Harts saved their home but lost sheds, fencing and farming equipment, as well as several much-loved goats.

Mr Hart said his bush property remained a dangerous place because trees damaged in the fire still posed daily risks.

“It does spin you out, when I’ve been in the bush, and I’ve cleaned up an area, and … you go back the next day and there’s a big, dirty branch laying there, just where you were,” Mr Hart said.

Now, five years after the blaze, the Harts are among 86 people who have recently received compensation payouts, and say they will use the money to restore their property to how it was before the fire.

The remains of a burnt house are collapsed beside a burnt tractor.
One of the 12 homes burnt at Scotsburn, near Ballarat, in December 2015.(ABC News: Stephanie Anderson)

Class action leads to Christmas joy

In the months following the fire, a class action was launched through Maddens Lawyers, who alleged the fire was caused by a tractor and slasher being operated on a total fire ban day.

Two components in the slasher are thought to have come into contact with one another, resulting in a spark that ignited the Scotsburn blaze.

In August last year, the Supreme Court awarded $10.5 million to the 86 victims of the fire.

Just before Christmas, the Harts received a call that compensation would be distributed in the coming weeks.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t know whether we would get one cent, you just don’t know, but now that [we have], it was well worth [joining the class action].”

Ms Hart said despite being insured, a lot of their equipment was not covered.

She said the compensation payout would help them to replace equipment and restore their property.

A massive plume of white smoke rises above a dry grass paddock beside a highway, with blue sky and clouds in the distance.
The fire at Scotsburn, south of Ballarat, burnt through 4,000 hectares of land.(Twitter: Matthew McCluskey)

Community life after the fire

The Harts said the smell of smoke lingered for months after the fire.

“As far as you could see it was black, and you tasted [the smoke] for months,” Ms Hart said.

She said a number of neighbours who lost hand-built homes in the fire decided not to rebuild, and others were still shaken from the incident.

“One of our neighbours, he’s an elderly man who lost his home … he had planned what he would do with his payment and he’s been off in the last week buying what he’d planned,” she said.

two firefighters in yellow protective suits hose a massive, blackened tree and smouldering gorund
Firefighters work to contain a bushfire near Scotsburn, south of Ballarat, in December 2015.(AAP: David Crosling)

Ms Hart said she hoped the compensation would allow those, who lost everything, to move forward.

The Harts said that, after the fire, the community had supported each other, and the joint experience had bonded many of them.

“We didn’t really know them [before] but we’ve met a lot of people since,” Ms Hart said. “We’ve had community dinners and we still do.”

A waterbomber is silhouetted against a golden sky as sun breaks through the clouds over the bushfire
Almost 90 people joined the Scotsburn Bushfire Class Action following the blaze.(ABC News: Stephanie Anderson)

‘If you have water, you’ll be right’

Scattered around the Harts’ home, thousands of litres of water are stationed alongside pumps, just in case the property is threatened again.

“I honestly, without a word of a lie, when that fire turned and started coming towards our house, I thought because my place was so clean, and the bush was clean that it would just go around us,” Mr Hart said. “But no, it didn’t.”

Mr Hart said he now repeated one message to everyone he met.

“I tell everyone I see, have your water, have your water and you’ll be right,” he said.

The class action was brought against four defendants, with two ultimately paying out the compensation — EL Mining Solutions, which is linked to the manufacturer of the Agrison equipment used in the slashing, and Auto & General Insurance, which insured one of the properties where the slashing occurred.


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