NSW priest sues state over bushfires

Warragamba priest Fr John Evans is among a group of 42 NSW victims who lost their homes in a Christmas 2001 bushfire who are suing the State Government over an alleged failure to warn residents of the blaze.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Fr Evans sacrificed his own home on Christmas Day 2001 as the bushfire swept towards his Warragamba church.

He is now joining other residents who claim they received no warnings at all that a bushfire was bearing down on the townships of Warragamba, Silverdale and Mulgoa.

As a result, more than $10 million damage was caused, with houses and businesses lost to the flames, as well as "historic homes of national significance".

Among the items lost were "pieces of Australian history", including a set of diaries penned by explorer Gregory Blaxland.

The class action is being brought against such organisations as the Rural Fire Service, NSW Fire Brigades and National Parks and Wildlife Service.

During a preliminary hearing in the Supreme Court yesterday, barrister David Nock SC said authorities "knew or ought to have known" that a bushfire was sweeping toward the towns.

"There was a failure to notify (the townships) in sufficient time so residents could minimise damage to property," Mr Nock said.

He told the court that, at 11am on the day of the blaze, members of a local Rural Fire Service were dressed "in Father Christmas suits ringing a bell" rather than preparing to fight a bushfire.

Local fire chiefs were also unaware, with one officer learning of the bushfire threat only when his property began burning.

Fr Evans, who managed to save the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, returned to find his own house engulfed in flames, the Telegraph says.

"He lost all his wonderful Irish robes and so forth, (things) that he would have taken out of his house if he had been given warning," Mr Nock said.

Victims sue over fire alert failures (News.com.au, 15/3/07)

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