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Featured Image Credit: Storyful/Cassandra Smith
On 3 January, Cassandra Smith, her husband Nicholas and their 14-month-old Labrador called Lexi were among the one thousand people to be evacuated from Mallacoota, Victoria, on HMAS Choules and taken to Western Port on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula and then onto the Melbourne Convention Centre.
Mallacoota was one of the worst-hit areas of the Victorian bushfire crisis, with reports of 4,000 people trapped on the foreshore on New Year's Eve as nearby fires raged.
Smith and her family had been holidaying in the small town each year since 2004. She said the coastal town had never seen such horror before. It's reported 80 homes have been lost in Mallacoota.
Describing the scenes onboard the ship, Cassandra said: "The Navy set up makeshift containers and pallet boards as pens for the dogs. There were 135 dogs, two cats, two birds and a rabbit - not all in the same area, thankfully."
She went on: "On 30 December the CFA [Country Fire Authority] briefed the community and said if you hear fire sirens, you have to evacuate. We left our campsite and were in boats, wearing long-sleeved cotton shirts and hats to protect ourselves from falling embers.
"We also had food for the three dogs between us. On New Year's Eve morning the sky went black with smoke and then red. We could hear gas bottles exploding and houses burning. People didn't know what was happening.
"When the worst of the fire passed, it was like a war zone. There were people walking around with flannels on their faces, wearing ski masks. By midnight, no one was celebrating the new year. We were all exhausted. No one said, 'Happy New Year!' Instead they were all saying, 'Are you OK, mate?'"
Smith, an asthma suffer, was taken to Far Saracen Esso Oil ship for treatment on 2 January, along with a group of parents with small children. She was then transferred to HMAS Choules, with her family and their pets.
She added: "The stories on the ship were gut-wrenching. So many people had lost their homes and were on a ship to a city they didn't know."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed at least 24 people had died this bushfire season.
There are plenty of big and small ways that we can all help: organisations like The Salvation Army, the Australian Red Cross and Vinnies have all set up donation methods, which will go on to provide those affected with food, clothing and other essential items.
Foodbank is also taking money and is hoping to send 5,000 food relief hampers to people affected by the fires in Victoria's East Gippsland area.
This is incredible.
Power to the people. https://t.co/HHemX5P3KM pic.twitter.com/c4CYys3Qy7
- Celeste barber (@celestebarber_) January 5, 2020
If you want to donate your money towards the services that are protecting and rehabilitation our animals then there are loads of places to do that.
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been a massive focal point as crews there look after the hundreds of koalas that have been affected by the fires on the NSW mid-north coast. You can donate to them here.
The NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) have been working across the state to try and make sure animals can survive and recover properly. Donate here.