More than 350 koalas are estimated to have died in an out-of-control bushfire on Australia’s NSW mid-north coast, with wildlife rescuers declaring it a “national tragedy.”
The blaze has reportedly scorched two thirds of Crestwood, an area south of Port Macquarie known as a koala breeding ground.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital president Sue Ashton said based on a predicted 60 per cent mortality rate, at least 350 koalas would be lost.
Ashton said a team of koala hospital workers were ready to conduct a search and rescue operation once given the all-clear from the NSW Rural Fire Service.
“It will be days of work in really extreme conditions—you’re on a fire ground in PPE (personal protective equipment) gear with the weather really starting to heat up,” she told AAP.
The hospital released graphic footage of koalas lying burned to death on the smouldering ground in Port Macquarie on Wednesday and Ashton said the disaster would take a toll her on volunteers.
“It’s a national tragedy,” she said.
“It’s very confronting. We’re actually arranging counselling for our rescuers, because you can imagine finding those sorts of remains is quite traumatic, particularly when you work so hard to keep them alive.”
Sydneysiders have woken to another smoky day as the haze from fires in NSW’s mid-north causes poor air quality across the city.
Smoke from bushfires near Port Macquarie and the Hunter region has been pushed down over parts of Sydney, and as far as Bowral in the Southern Highlands.
The Department of Environment has forecast air quality in Sydney for Thursday as “poor” due to particles, and those with a chronic respiratory or heart condition have been encouraged to avoid outdoor activity and stay indoors.
The department’s air quality index showed parts of the lower Hunter, upper Hunter, Central Coast, and Sydney’s east are rated as “hazardous.”
Within the Sydney area, Randwick, Rozelle, Chullora, Earlwood, and Macquarie Park were given a hazardous rating.
Northerly winds will continue into at least Thursday with the potential to bring more smoke over the affected areas, authorities say.
“It is mixing currently with fog, but we are expecting that to clear a little across the day. But it may not completely clear for another 24 hours,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.
The RFS said 60 fires are currently burning across the state with 38 uncontained, requiring the attention of 1000 firefighters and support staff.
However, rain is expected across the state on Sunday, offering partial relief.
While there are no total fire bans in place for Thursday the greater Hunter, greater Sydney, Illawarra/Shoalhaven, far South Coast, Southern Ranges and Central Ranges areas are under very high fire danger.