Burn compensation sought

By Eden Hynninen

A Lancefield family will take legal action against the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning after failing to receive compensation for the damage caused to their property, following a botched planned burn in 2015.

The Lancefield-Cobaw 266-hectare planned burn broke containment lines in November 2015, burning close to 3000 hectares including four houses, 25 sheds and stretches of fencing.

Included in the damage was Graeme and Adele Walker’s property who – due to inaction from the State Government department – have resorted to legal action in a bid to finalise a compensation claim after nearly four years.

Graeme and Adele Walker have resorted to legal action in a bid to finalise a compensation claim after nearly four years.

The couple has begun County Court proceedings with DELWP, where the department has claimed they do not owe a duty of care to nearby property owners affected by the burn.

Macedon Ranges Shire Council east ward councillor Henry Bleeck said he was deeply concerned that DELWP had admitted the burn broke containment lines but denied the Walkers suffered any loss or damage to their 550 acres – that was mostly burnt out.

Cr Bleeck was CFA president at the time of the blaze and actively fought to extinguish the fire.

“I fully understand the frustrations of the Walkers in waiting almost four years for this harrowing period in their life to be finalised so they can move on,” Cr Bleeck said.

Mr Walker’s sister and Lancefield resident Cherie Goodson said not only did the fire devastate her brother’s property but also his parent’s memorial that was destroyed.

“Graeme has had a wood and firewood business for well in excess of 20 years and 460 cubic metres of cut and split firewood was destroyed. Imagine the time he spent cutting that up – this impacted his business for the next two years,” Ms Goodson said.

“Not only that, the contractor came along with his grader – and the fire was still burning at this point – and we had a memorial stone for where our parents ashes were buried and the driver went straight through it.

“Not only did the fires devastate his property, but the memorial was obliterated. This is not just simple pain and suffering but also about the thoughtlessness of the situation all together.”

Ms Goodson said her brother and DELWP couldn’t come to an agreement of value and that he had not been compensated.

“He comes over every week and has a cup of tea with his wood deliveries and I know that it is still impacting on him,” she said.

“To tell you the truth I find the situation very unjust – he is sad.”

Cr Bleeck said the independent investigation found a number of shortcomings in the burn planning processes and the management of the burn.

“Yet DELWP now steps away from this even though it said at the time it accepted all 22 of the investigation’s recommendations,” he said.

“It’s shameful that more than three and a half years on, people who lost property and possessions and had their livelihood and peace of mind shattered by this fire are still being stuffed around and left waiting.

“The Andrews Government, Minister Lisa Neville and our local member Mary-Anne Thomas are to be commended for the way they responded, with $1.5 million in funding for community development and specific projects such as improvements at the Lancefield Park, the Lancefield Mechanics Institute and the Benloch Fire Station.

“The whole community is benefiting from this welcome funding – but we’ve still got a family that can’t get on with their lives.”