CIVIC leaders will send in workers to clear fire hazards at a historic Colac mansion after a third suspicious fire in as many months.
Police are investigating a grass fire at the iconic Balnagowan House which broke out in overgrown grass surrounding the abandoned homestead in Stodart Street.
The Colac Otway Shire Council has reacted by promising to send in contractors to bring the mansion’s grounds up to “compliance standards”.
Detective Mick Palmer of Colac Criminal Investigation Unit said the Colac Fire Brigade and police attended the fire about 1am yesterday.
“It was extinguished quickly – it’s being treated as suspicious,” Det Palmer said.
“It was inside the fenced area, still a bit of a distance from the house but inside the fence,” he said.
“We’re yet to determine whether there was an accelerant used.”
CFA district six duty officer Michael Crutchfield said three CFA trucks and 12 firefighters contained the blaze to a three-square-metre area in its early stages.
But Det Palmer said the fire could have been worse because of the dry, overgrown grass surrounding the 121-year-old homestead.
He urged neighbouring residents to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity around the property to police.
“It’s long grass so the potential is there but we ask that all local residents to be vigilant and notify police if they see anything suspicious,” Det Palmer.
“We’re appealing for anyone who might know anything to contact police,” he said.
Det Palmer said police couldn’t draw any links between previous arson attempts on the mansion, in November and December last year, and yesterday morning’s grass fire.
Colac Otway Shire Council sustainable planning and development general manager Jack Green said the council issued a fire prevention notice to Balnagowan’s owners late last year.
Mr Green said the owners had maintained “some areas” of the property, but he said “other areas” were unacceptable.
He said the council would take matters into its own hands and the owners faced infringement notice and contractor costs.
Box Hill company is mansion’s new owner
THE Colac Herald can reveal a Box Hill-based company owns Colac’s iconic Balnagowan House.
A search of Victoria’s land titles showed Balnagowan Homestead Proprietary Limited registered as a company with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in June last year before a four-month delay in buying the property.
Jan Leslie Rich, of Box Hill, signed the transfer of land papers as Balnagowan Homestead’s sole director and sole company secretary.
The Colac Herald left a message with Ms Rich yesterday and she failed to respond.
The company officially took over the historic homestead in October last year and its identity remained a mystery amid growing community fears for the once majestic property.
Developers previously bought the 121-year-old homestead intending to transform the site into a retirement precinct, a plan which fell through due to the developer’s financial problems.
The property was abandoned and became overgrown and dilapidated, making it a target for crime and arson attacks.
The Colac Otway Shire Council planned, before last year’s ownership delays, to apply for a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing to seek a formal enforcement order for the full restoration of Balnagowan.