The bushfire which burnt out a large area of wetlands near the Black Rocks estate south of Pottsville last week has wiped out a large chunk of koala habitat but dead koalas are yet to be found, according to locals.
The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) is investigating the cause of the fire which started in the Pottsville Wetlands on Christmas Day and raged for three days, with firefighters using a backburn to bring it under control.
Nearby residents feared for their homes, while others including wildlife carers feared for the koala population in the 300-hectare wetlands, of which around 230 hectares was affected by the fire.
The wetland area is known to have around 35 animals of the Tweed Coast’s total surviving population of around 143 koalas.
RFS volunteers managed to save four koalas found on the eastern side of the fire where the back burning operation was being carried out, and told media there could have been more in other parts they had no access to.
Black Rocks resident Dave Norris could not rule out koala deaths and urged people to contact the Friends of the Koala 24-hour rescue and information service on 02 6622 1233 and/or the Tweed Valley Wildlife Carers on 02 6672 4789 if they sight koalas or other wildlife dead or alive in the area.
Mr Norris told Echonetdaily he spent a few days scouring some of the burnout area after the fire looking for koalas but could not find any, dead or alive.
‘It’s difficult to locate dead animals in the blackened charred landscape. Crows are hanging around, and there is an occasional scent of decomposing bodies of animals that did not survive,’ he said.
‘There were large areas where the canopy of tall gums was not badly affected, and koalas can survive if they retreat high into the canopy of tall trees, depending on the severity of the heat below the canopy.
‘However, large and intense bush fires that burn into the canopy can kill koalas, either through direct flame contact or inhalation of smoke and ash.
‘Many tree canopies below 12 to 15 metres in the fire-affected area of the wetland are browned or burnt out.
‘The fire did not progress south of Kellehers Road, so the core koala habitat and breeding areas around Black Rocks sports field (south of Kellehers Road) were unaffected by the fire,’ Mr Norris said.