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 said 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."
Tree's team of firefighters called wildlife officials, then resumed patrols of Australia's wildfire-ravaged southern Victoria state.
"I love nature, and I've handled koalas before," Tree said. "They're not the friendliest things, but I wanted to help him."
The koala, nicknamed Sam, is doing fine. And he, turns out, is a she.
The rescue was one small bright moment in Australia's wildfire tragedy. Thousands of acres have burned, with 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.
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