Volunteers rescue koalas and kangaroos from Cherry Gardens fireground | Ralph-Lauren

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It is hard to believe that anything survived the Cherry Gardens fire.

The blaze was so hot it sent a plume of smoke high over the Adelaide skyline during the day and left the night sky glowing a deep eerie red.

Two homes, 19 outbuildings and two vehicles were lost in the blaze that burnt more than 2,700 hectares of land south-east of Adelaide amid extreme heat.

Weeks on from the fire, volunteers from the South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) organisation are scouring the fireground looking for signs of life.

Burnt trees line rolling hills with a smattering of healthy green-top trees in the foreground
The Cherry Gardens fire burnt through dense bushland that is home to many native animals.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
A koala sits in a tree surrounded by a mixture of burnt brown and green gum leafs
SAVEM volunteers have noticed that some koalas have not moved since the fire moved through — a sign that they could be injured.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)

The organisation’s volunteers have scoured the fireground for weeks looking for animals in need of help.

“Wildlife survive for a surprisingly long time after a fire has gone through,” Dr Westcott said.

“Sometimes up to eight to 10 weeks [afterwards] we find animals who are injured and emaciated.

A koala sits high in a tree above three women in red overalls preparing to lift paddles
After spotting a koala, a team of three volunteers use paddles to gently coax it down from a tree.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)

“Animals usually go into hiding usually during the first week after a fire and don’t come out until at least the end of the first week.”

Constant monitoring of the area since the fire has seen hundreds of kangaroos, koalas and other native animals such as bandicoots, echidnas and birds receive care for injuries sustained during the blaze.

A koala is held by two volunteers while a third person checks it for burns
After being coaxed from its tree, this koala is checked over by a vet.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)

The teams have been moving through the Cherry Gardens fireground for three weeks and expect to continue the work for another three at least.

“Animals aren’t just like livestock where you know where they are and you know who owns them and how many there are,” she said.

“Wildlife are completely different stories so — we don’t know how many there are, we don’t know exactly where they are.”

A woman earing red overalls and a cap stands behind a car bonnet
Rachel Westcott says wildlife continues to appear in the weeks after a fire has been extinguished.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

While many animals need further care at wildlife sanctuaries or specialised care providers for burns and fractures, others are found healthy.

“It is lovely when you find one that is well, that just needs to be moved 50 metres up the road to an area that hasn’t been burned where there are other koalas who are also healthy,” Dr Westcott said.

Three volunteers in red jumpsuits look up at a koala in a tree
Some koalas do not need further care and are released into healthier trees nearby.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)


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