BUSHFIRE UPDATE: the scale of the loss in Tasmania this week is beyond words
On Sunday 13 January, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) team drove into the footprint of the Dunalley, Southeast Tasmania burn area to see for ourselves the scale and intensity of the destruction to the landscape, human settlements and wildlife.
The Arthur Highway had been opened to residents and businesses the day before and we were allowed in today.
Unless you experience the destruction of wildfires first hand, the scale of the loss in Tasmania this week is beyond words.
Everywhere we saw vast swathes of trees killed by the fires and the heat - still standing but all their leaves burnt off or brown, and the limbs blackened by the fires.
Instead of the characteristic and iconic blue-grey Eucalyptus landscape, the hills and valleys were shades of brown, with dead gum trees in all directions.
We saw numerous piles of bones - all that was left of brush-tailed possums, pademelons, bettongs and Bennett's wallabies.
Their bones were white from the intense heat of the fires that swept through so rapidly.
We encountered an echidna on the side of the road, ambling along looking for some ants. The echidna appeared unharmed, with just some of its quills burnt, but was able to walk along easily. Just how this ground-dwelling mammal survived the fire is a mystery - and finding food in the burnt landscape will be a major challenge for all echidnas and other survivors!
At every stop, the heavy smell of the fire lingered in the air, a constant reminder of the destruction of earlier in the week.
We saw numerous sheep in blackened paddocks on either side of the highway.
Their supply of grass in the paddocks gone, burnt off in seconds.
The sheeps' woollen coats were blackened from being singed by the fires and from walking around in the ash that coats the landscape and raises in swirls with every step. The sheep and cattle are now reliant on hay being brought in from elsewhere in the state on trucks - we saw four large trucks in the space of an hour bringing in much-needed hay to livestock in the area.
During our travels, we entered Dunalley, the epicentre of the fire in the Southeast, and one of the communities hardest hit - with almost half the houses destroyed in the fire.
The community response has been rapid and well-orchestrated, and a recovery centre and animal treatment centre were in full operation.
A number of people were present with their pets, but only a few wild animals had been brought in.
All of the wildlife affected is being transferred to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary (www.bonorong.com.au) and by this past Sunday 13 January, 16 animals had been admitted.
The IFAW team is currently working to assist local vets in compiling lists of the equipment and supplies they need to treat wildlife and domestic animals.
For more information about our efforts to save animals in crisis around the world, visit our Animal Rescue campaign page.