HEALESVILLE, Australia – The koala moved gingerly on scorched paws, crossing the blackened landscape as the fire patrol passed.
Clearly in pain, the animal stopped when it saw firefighter David Tree following behind.
"It was amazing, he turned around, sat on his bum and sort of looked at me with (a look) like, put me out of my misery," Tree told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I yelled out for a bottle of water. I unscrewed the bottle, tipped it up on his lips and he just took it naturally. He kept reaching for the bottle, almost like a baby."
The team called animal welfare officers as it resumed its patrols on Sunday, the day after deadly firestorms swept southern Victoria state.
"I love nature, and I've handled koalas before. They're not the friendliest things, but I wanted to help him," Tree said.
Tree says he's spoken to wildlife officials, and the koala, nicknamed Sam, is doing fine. And he, it turns out, is a she.
The rescue was one small bright moment in Australia's wildfire tragedy. Thousands of acres have been burned out, almost 1,000 homes destroyed and more than 180 people killed.
Countless animals were killed in the disaster, which hit farming and forest regions to the north and east of the Victoria state capital of Melbourne, and many more fled in panic.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals said it was establishing shelters to care for thousands of pets and livestock affected by the disaster.