It’s feared hundreds of koala bears have died in a huge wildfire in northern New South Wales, Australia.
The bushfire is thought to have been caused by a lightning strike near the town of Port Macquarie, however it went unchecked for days and burned through more than 2,000 hectares.
As of Wednesday morning (October 30), there were 71 fires burning across New South Wales, with 30 yet to be contained. Flames blazed through the heartland of the koalas’ prime habitat, including an important koala breeding ground, and experts fear it may have harmed a large number of the creatures.
Learn more about the fires below:
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital president Sue Ashton said she feared the worst as koalas were ‘terrible’ at coping in a bushfire scenario, 7 News reports. According to Ashton, during a fire koalas tend to climb to the top of a tree and curl up into a ball, meaning ‘flames will just go over the top and singe the outside’ of the creatures.
However, the koala hospital worker explained the animals can be burned alive if fires are particularly intense.
#NSWfires wildlife experts on the NSW mid north coast still waiting to see how many #koalas killed in the bushfire south of #PortMacquarie in a region considered critical koala habitat, fire authorities @NSWRFS to escort experts in once area considered safe. pic.twitter.com/UtgCS298kw
— Danuta Kozaki (@danutakozaki) October 30, 2019
The hospital’s trained rescuers are unable to search for surviving koalas until Thursday or Friday, but Ashton made clear the loss of life would be a ‘tragedy’.
The beauty of this particular population is that it’s so genetically diverse that it’s of national significance.
A lot of the koalas are being mixed and cross-bred now… so to lose a large part of that population is very devastating.
Ashton went on to say that even if koalas manage to avoid a blaze, they can burn their paws and claws while climbing smouldering trees, causing injuries that can leave them unable to climb properly again.
The hospital, which can house up to 40 koalas, has recruited more than 150 volunteers to deal with the influx of injured animals they expect to get.
In a disaster people just switch on and you do what you have to do. No one can control nature, but there’s sadness because we care so much about the koalas.
Koalas are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with their population threatened by urbanisation and habitat destruction.
The blaze broke containment lines on Tuesday but it was downgraded to watch-and-act advice level early Wednesday as conditions eased.
WATCH & ACT: Crestwood Dv, Lake Cathie area (Port Macquarie-Hastings LGA) There's been an increase of fire activity in area of Long Point Dv & Cooinda Pl, Lake Cathie. Crews in place to provide property protection. Those in the area should enact their bush fire survival plan. pic.twitter.com/C7SomGmsWx
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) October 30, 2019
Greg Allan, spokesperson for New South Wales Rural Fire Service, said north-easterly winds had pushed smoke from the blaze as far south as Wollongong and Nowra.
It’s still an active fire and won’t be out for some time. The winds are pushing it down along the coast, which will keep happening as long as the fire is burning.
At 5pm there are 72 fires burning across the state, with 38 yet to be contained. The Crestwood Drive fire near Lake Cathie remains at Watch & Act, all other fires are at Advice. With warm weather set to continue, know what you'll do if fire threatens. #NSWRFS #NSWFIRES pic.twitter.com/UWPbL3beJp
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) October 30, 2019
New South Wales Health reminded those in the area that children, older adults and people with heart and lung conditions were most susceptible to the effects of air pollution and excessive smoke.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.