Katie Peters was just six years old when a friend was killed in front of her — a tree limb struck a utility.
In May, 2000 a snow storm blew across the North East leaving drifts across roads from Yackandandah to Corryong.
It was a sightseers’ dream that turned into a nightmare for Katie, who was killed by a falling tree near Harrietville in eastern Victoria on Wednesday afternoon.
Katie was one of nine in and on the tray of a Toyota Hilux 13 years ago, taking in the view from Lockhart’s Gap when tragedy struck.
A 42-metre-high gum tree gave way under the burden of snow, a 14-metre branch killing fellow sightseer and family friend Georgia Smith, 6, instantly.
Katie had been with her four siblings, mother and father, Heather and Chris, along with the Smith family.
Katie along and her siblings Jordan and Laura were not injured.
By Wednesday, the would-be vet had already slid down rugged terrain as part of a 60-person crew who built a containment line around a 20-hectare fire, the only access an hour-long hike carrying 12-kilogram backpacks.
She had some less flattering remarks about the gender challenges faced as a girl in a “man’s world” but that was probably more about camaraderie and banter than angst.
Yes, she would go back to study.
It was just a year away from the books, a well-earned reprieve for a gut-busting VCE year.
Now the teenager is dead.
A falling tree in the middle of the bush killed her and a fellow Department of Sustainability and Environment summer firefighter from Corryong.
Yesterday her family, including two brothers and two sisters, paid tribute to the girl they had to drag off her horse at dusk, who dreamed of being a vet.
Her high school, still in shock, remembered the girl who led on the sports field and in the classroom, while fellow firefighters reminisced about the down-to-earth 19-year-old who would never baulk at a challenge.
Her family yesterday said Katie was a country girl, raised on the family dairy farm in the Mitta Valley, never far from her horse, dog or cat.
“She was a happy, caring and genuine farm girl who had a great sense of humour,” they said.
“Her interest in veterinary science stemmed from her love for animals, especially horses.
“We remember even from a young age having to call her in from the bush at dusk to return home for dinner.
“She had been in the bush riding her horse, often with her dog and cat in tow.
“Katie will always be held in the hearts of those who knew her.
“Our family, Katie’s partner, friends and workmates are united in grief as we try to come to terms with our loss.”
Katie started school life at Eskdale Primary but became a leader at Tallangatta Secondary College.
She had planned to study science at Geelong’s Deakin University this year as a stepping stone to becoming a vet.
Yesterday Tallangatta Secondary College principal Alby Freijah said the school and community were in shock.
“It is an absolute tragedy, as you can imagine we are shocked and saddened, our thoughts go out to Katie’s family,” he said.
“She was an excellent student, well respected by her fellow students, teachers and the wider community.
“She was a mentor, sports leader and house captain.
“In her final year she was one of the college’s vice-captains.
“She was the type of student who sets the standard for others, who you hope others will aspire to be.”
DSE chief fire officer Alan Goodwin said the loss of Katie and her colleague was a tragedy.
She had made time for everyone; she loved working with her colleagues and was incredibly down to earth, he said.
As part of a feature on female firefighters recently, Katie spoke of how much she enjoyed the previous season, with one of the highlights attending a bushfire in remote terrain at King’s Spur, south- east of Dartmouth Dam.
“This is devastating news and the loss of staff is a tragedy under any circumstances,” Mr Goodwin said.
“Even one death is not acceptable. I would like to personally extend my sympathies and DSE’s sympathies to their families and friends.”