Australia is experiencing widespread wildfires, with temperatures reaching more than 40C (104F) in many areas. So far, at least four people are believed to have died, and while the human cost is devastating, Australia's wildlife seems to be suffering far worse.
So far, wildfires have burned through more than 2.5 million acres of Australia’s east coast, threatening vulnerable species like the koala. But one badly burned koala was rescued by a woman named Toni, who rushed to the animal's aid when she spotted it trying to cross a road in New South Wales.
News footage captured the moment when Toni takes off her shirt and uses it to grab the animal. She rushes the screaming animal to safety before using a bottle of water to soothe the animal's wounds. Toni and her husband then wrap the animal in a blanket before getting in their car to drive the animal to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.
According to a GoFundMe set up by Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which has received over $900,000 in donations, they have received at least 31 injured koalas as a result of the wildfires.
"The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, and National Parks and Wildlife Service crew leaders, have spent weeks searching for koalas following the devastating bush fires in the Port Macquarie area," the hospital explains. "To date, 31 koalas have been brought to the hospital from several fire grounds."
"On admittance to the hospital, a koala is rehydrated and then the following day examined for burns which are treated with burns cream before they are bandaged. The dressings are changed every three days."
The money raised is being used to install automatic drinking stations in burnt areas to help koala and other wildlife survive following the wildfires.
The hospital is also planning to buy a water-carrying vehicle with fire fighting capabilities than they can use to replenish water at the stations.
"As many as 350 koalas have perished with approximately 75% of the fireground footprint being prime koala habitat," the hospital concluded.
The pair were reunited on Wednesday, with the koala since being named Lewis. Toni said she leaped to the rescue after seeing Lewis' back legs on fire. Toni covered him with her shirt in an attempt to put out the flames and poured water on him to make sure they were extinguished.
Lewis is recovering at the hospital, with staff saying he had a "lucky escape" though he still remains in a critical condition.
Toni, who named the koala after one of her grandchildren, told Today: "It was terrifying to see him just come out of the flames and he looked so defenceless running along the road."
"I knew I needed to put something around him as I ran to the tree, so I just took off my shirt and covered him with it," she continued. "I just tried to get him out of the fire, it was so hot and so frightening."
Toni explained that the koala was screaming because of the flames, saying: "I've never heard a koala before. I didn't realize they could cry out. It was just so heart rendering and I knew I needed to get him out of there as quickly as possible."
As for the shirt, it was salvageable. "I was so pleased I had something to put over him and to get him out of harm's way," Toni added. It was a handy top. I've washed it, it's back in the wardrobe."
While Toni did all she could, hospital staff still say Lewis isn't out of the woods yet.
"He is probably 50-50 at this stage," a spokesperson from the hospital told 9news.com.au. "His feet are completely burnt and he has burns to his chest and stomach. He has been bandaged and given antibiotics but will take a lot of looking after, if he pulls through."
Unsurprisingly, Toni is being hailed as a hero on social media following her rescue. "This woman took off her shirt to save a burning koala and I’m crying now," one user wrote.
Another added: "Sometimes humanity is s**t, but sometimes a woman rips off her shirt and runs into burning trees and brush to wrap a lost, wounded baby koala in said shirt and bring it to safety."
While one commenter offered to replace the shirt: "Its real, animals are suffering on the wildfires. My heart is broken watching this koala running for his life, while my heart rejoice thanks to this fearless and brave woman. Thank you a thousand times. I'll get you a new shirt, where are you?"
Another concluded: "Not sure the heartbreak & genetic pain memory were worth the watching. But God bless that wonderful woman who stripped off her clothes *in a fire* to save a helpless creature. That’s a part I want to remember—and that the little guy survived."