Second lawsuit over deadly Australian wildfires

A class action over Australia's deadly 2009 wildfires was launched Tuesday against a Singapore power company, with victims of the blaze that killed 40 people blaming the firm for its ignition.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn said the case against SP AusNet, which is majority owned by Singapore Power, was filed Tuesday in the Victorian Supreme Court alleging it was responsible for a devastating fire at Marysville.

The blaze was among the most severe of the February 7 2009 wildfires which tore through southern Victoria state, killing 173 people in Australia's most deadly disaster of modern times.

A total of 40 people died in and around Marysville and 538 homes were razed along with the town's primary school and police station, and compensation lawyers Maurice Blackburn said there was evidence SP AusNet was at fault.

"The action will allege the fire started as a result of a poorly constructed electricity line which is now believed to have started the blaze," the firm said.

Lawyer Andrew Watson said Maurice Blackburn was recently granted access to the brief presented to the coroner who investigated the firestorm and there was "new evidence to support a claim on behalf of the victims" at Marysville.

"We think they have a strong claim for compensation given what has now come to light," said Watson.

A separate case against Singapore Power over the worst of the fires, the Kinglake-Kilmore East blaze which killed 119 people, has already been filed in court on behalf of 1,500 victims and is due to go to trial in January 2013.

Watson said the Marysville action would allege that poorly constructed and maintained infrastructure had failed in hot and windy conditions, causing a fence to ignite.

SP AusNet described the lawsuit as "premature and based on incomplete information" and said it would "vigorously defend any claim made against it in relation to the inspection and maintenance of its assets."

It noted that the police were yet to make public the findings of their investigation of the fire, which had originally focused on arson.

"The company emphatically rejects any assertion of negligence and strongly holds the belief that it consistently complies with its regulatory obligations," SP AusNet said in a statement to the Australian stock exchange.

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