Home General News Forest fire investigation said worker caused fire while welding on first day on the job

Forest fire investigation said worker caused fire while welding on first day on the job

by Anthony L. Gonzalez

Farmhand Mark Turner was on the first day of a new job when he employed a welder and accidentally started a major Black Summer bushfire that destroyed 10 homes.

Mr. Turner told the coronavirus inquiry into bushfires in New South Wales that he knew it was risky to weld a metal fence post on a hot December day in 2019 on a drought-stricken farm in Palmers Oaky, west central NSW.

‘We shouldn’t have welded. We shouldn’t have worked,” Mr. Turner told the inquiry on Wednesday, visibly stressed.

“It was so dry and windy. All you had to do was get a spark, and something would light up.”

Forest fire investigation said worker caused fire while welding on first day on the job

The farmhand, who had welding experience but no formal qualifications, said he wanted to impress his new boss, Jamie Edwards.

Mr. Edwards stood nearby watching for sparks, but the couple took no other fire precautions, the inquest was told.

‘I didn’t think about those things. I wanted to do the best work and show the best I could,” said Mr. Turner.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Adam Casselden SC, said the fire was accidentally set on Dec. 4 on private property in the Upper Turon region, north of Bathurst.

The fire burned for 58 days on more than 17,000 acres before extinguishing on January 31, 2020.

It destroyed 10 houses and 14 farm buildings and damaged two other places.

Mr. Turner recalls stomping on the fire when it started while he and other workers later tried unsuccessfully to use a sprinkler.

“I did everything I could to extinguish the flames,” Mr. Turner said.

He described “alarms blaring in my head” as the fire rose amid rapidly changing wind conditions.

“We had put out the fire, but the embers would fly, and a new fire would start.”

Mr. Turner denied that he and Mr. Edwards later discussed telling police the fire was caused by car exhaust or a piece of farm equipment.

But he agreed the men spoke before Mr. Turner made a statement to the police.

“Jamie said he was afraid he would go to jail, and he said, ‘let me go fishing with (family) first,'” Mr. Turner said.

Edwards said he was initially concerned about going to the police because his “name was mud” among locals, but he spoke to detectives in January and told the truth.

He said the farm owner, Charbel Tannous, insisted that the men weld rather than use bolts.

Another employee, Spencer Morgan, said he was not trained to use firefighting equipment on the property but always drove around with a sprayer filled with water.

Mr. Morgan said none of the men knew how to use it, and the pressure valve was in the wrong position.

“There was enough water to douse the flames but not enough to stop the embers,” Morgan said.

The investigation continues for state coroner Teresa O’Sullivan.

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