Power Company Pays $470M Over Fire That Killed 119

Black Saturday payout is biggest in Aussie history

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 15, 2014 1:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – Australian power company SP AusNet hasn't officially accepted responsibility for a wildfire that killed 119 people near Melbourne in early 2009—but it has agreed to pay $470 million to survivors in the biggest class-action settlement in the country's history. Some 10,000 plaintiffs accused the firm of negligence after investigators determined that the fire began when an electricity line failed between two poles, causing a live conductor to ignite vegetation, the BBC reports. The ensuing fire was one of several wildfires that killed a total of 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes on February 7, 2009, which became known as Black Saturday.

The company says the settlement, which still needs court approval, is not an admission of liability, the AP reports. "The conductor which broke and which initiated the fire was damaged by lightning, compromising its fail-safety design in a manner which was undetectable at the time," it said in a statement. "It is a tragedy that the conductor eventually failed on one of the worst days imaginable." A lawyer for the plaintiffs says the settlement will bring "a measure of justice and some real compensation to help ease the financial burden of their suffering." After the deadly fires, rescued koala Sam became a symbol of hope—though he died of chlamydia later that year.

Destroyed homes are seen north of Melbourne, Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.
Destroyed homes are seen north of Melbourne, Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.   (AP Photo/Channel Nine via APTN)
This Feb. 8, 2009 photo shows buildings and vehicles destroyed by a deadly wildfire northeast of Melbourne, Australia.
This Feb. 8, 2009 photo shows buildings and vehicles destroyed by a deadly wildfire northeast of Melbourne, Australia.   (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
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