Landowners angered by lack of accountability over grass fire

Amphitheatre farmers Helen Bilson and Bruce Tiley are calling for answers after a fire tore through their properties and destroyed 100 acres.

Amphitheatre farmers are calling on V/Line to take responsibility for a fire they allege was sparked by a freight train and destroyed $60,000 worth of property earlier this year.

Farm owners Ian Bird and Helen Bilson are demanding recognition and compensation for the fire which ripped through farmland on the Pyrenees Highway between Amphitheatre and Elmhurst on February 27.

Farm manager of Mr Bird’s property, Bruce Tiley, was an eyewitness to the fire he says broke out after sparks from a freight train hit dry trackside vegetation next to the farm.

“I was on my motorbike waiting for a freight train to go past so I could cross the tracks to one of the paddocks. But as soon as the last carriage went through I could see flames next to the track,” he said.

“I looked further down the train line towards Keiths Road and there were flames everywhere. I rang triple zero and because I’m captain of the Raglan Fire Brigade I called it in on my radio. Everything turned pear shaped after that, it was frightening.”

With experience attending fires through the CFA, Mr Tiley said he firmly believes the train caused the fire, saying there was “nothing else” that could’ve caused the flames.

Mr Tiley said it took firefighting aircraft and 15 fire trucks to get the blaze under control, with some trucks staying overnight.

V/Line confirmed in a statement that the CFA completed an investigation into the fire.

“At the time of the incident there were no V/Line trains on the rail line. V/Line does not operate trains between Ararat and Maryborough, this is a freight-only rail line,” the statement read.

“There was a Pacific National freight train travelling through the section at the time.”

The Maryborough District Advertiser found the fire was determined to be accidental and that the cause of the incident was possibly the “aggressive application of power to the locomotive drive, which created excessive friction from the drive wheels to the rail, resulting in massive spark release into the grass on the track side”.

For more on this story see the Front Page of The Advertiser, Friday, August 10.

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