Communities feel the loss

THE Towong Shire is reeling after two “up and coming” young firefighters were killed when a tree fell on the pair’s vehicle in a “freak accident” at the Harrietville-Alpine North fire.

Department of Sustainability and Environment firefighters Katie Peters, 19, from Tallandoon, and her Corryong colleague, Steven Kadar, 34, were part of a convoy of eight vehicles heading out to fight the fire near Pheasant Creek.

Corryong residents yesterday described Mr Kadar as “well liked” and “well respected”.

Towong Shire deputy mayor David Wortmann’s eldest son Daniel Wortmann was in an emergency vehicle behind Miss Peters and Mr Kadar.

It was the first firefighting season for the 19-year-old.

“He saw the tree ahead of him,” Cr Wortmann said.

“It was just a freak accident.”

Cr Wortmann said Daniel, who went to school with Miss Peters, was with DSE officials for most of yesterday receiving counselling and debriefs along with some other members of the convoy.

“He’s just devastated,” Cr Wortmann said.

Cr Wortmann, a CFA volunteer, said he was impressed by the training DSE gave Daniel.

“The public don’t realise. You go to a fire and everyone thinks it’s smoke and flames but there are so many other dangers.

“It doesn’t matter how much training and protective gear you have, accidents still happen.”

He said it was terrible for the Mitta Valley and Corryong communities.

“We lost two wonderful, young people, it’s just devastating,” he said.

Wangaratta police detectives are investigating the incident alongside WorkSafe Victoria.

Police were not able to access the scene until 8pm, almost five hours after the incident occurred because of the fire threat.

Eastern region Superintendent Paul O’Halloran said the efforts of the investigators and crime scene personnel had been outstanding while DSE and other emergency services had to continue fighting the fire.

Supt O’Halloran, speaking from Corryong, said the incident had “badly” affected his officers.