Australia bushfires: Meet the koalas lucky to be alive after devastating blazes

Siobhan Robbins, SE Asia correspondent

Over the edge of a little knitted pouch, two bright eyes peer out.

Next, a tiny grey paw wriggles free and then a fluffy grey and white ear pops forward.

They belong to a koala joey named Haze.

At just a few months old she weighs less than half a bag of sugar.

Her mother is dead, killed in the recent bushfires in the Australian state of New South Wales.

Haze should be still in her mother's pouch, but a firefighter spotted her and rescued her from the flames.

"She was very ill when she arrived, in fact I didn't think she was going to survive," her carer Christeen McLeod explains.

"If she hadn't have been found, she would have been baked. An owl, a fox, wild dogs would have just got her and that would have been the end of her if she hasn't perished in the fires."

She and her husband Paul are currently caring for 25 koalas at their home in the east coast town of Taree.

They run the charity Koalas in Care, providing 24 hour treatment to injured animals every day of the year.

But the bushfire crisis has led to a surge in patients, with nine new cases being admitted in the last few days alone.

In their lounge, big washing baskets, packets of nappies and breathing equipment stand ready and waiting for next emergency. A room to the side of the house has been transformed into a critical care ward.

In two of the cages another set of joeys snuggle down into their hand knitted pouches, next to them a bigger koala sits on a padded branch chewing eucalyptus leaves.

"This is Sparky, he's from the Harrington fire," Christeen says, opening the door of the cage.

Sparky has been with them for around two weeks.

His fur was singed and his nose and paws were badly burnt, he's lucky to be alive.

The fires burning around Taree have been some of the biggest of the past week and some of the animals brought in have such severe injuries they're being transferred to clinics outside the danger zone.

It's estimated at least 350 have been killed in blazes in New South Wales.

"Other animals will run out of the fire zone, koalas will go to the top of the tree so if you've got a crown fire you're gonna have an incinerated koala," Christeen says.

Earlier this year, World Wildlife Fund Australia warned the continued threat to their habitat means koalas could be extinct in the state by 2050.

The McLeods fear the surge in fires could accelerate the problem.

"These might be the insurance policy for the next generation," Paul says, showing me a group of juveniles who are ready for release, adding: "They virtually could be the only ones left out of the whole population."

The ongoing threat means it's too dangerous to release the healthy, their habitat has been decimated by flames and there's currently nowhere safe to go.

With fires still burning it's difficult to gauge the full impact but here they fear the worst.

"This is going to devastate our koala population," Christeen sadly warns.