Much of the koala population in Port Stephens could have been killed in this week’s bushfire, wildlife carers say.
More than 9000 hectares of koala habitat was burnt, with little hope of survivors.
"It could very well have wiped them out," Port Stephens Koalas past president Sue Swain said.
"The firies have told us they saw koalas running from the flames, but there was nothing they could do to save them."
Rescuers have retrieved two koalas so far, one of them on the fire ground.
One, a male named Koolah, was found clinging to a burnt tree on the side of the Pacific Highway, near the Karuah turn-off.
The 3-year-old Koolah will be important to the area’s koala population when he returns, given the possible losses in the fire.
Port Stephens Koalas rescue and care co-ordinator Simone Aurino said Koolah had escaped the fire, but “he’s very ill with a chlamydial infection”.
“He’s got no habitat left, so he’s been transported today to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital,” Ms Aurino said.
“He’ll have to stay there until his habitat regrows.”
Ms Aurino said the fire and Koolah's care arrangement further demonstrated the need for a Port Stephens koala hospital.
Meanwhile, she said the fire ground was "still active".
“We’re expecting the animals that have been injured or displaced in the fire to start emerging shortly,” she said.
The other koala, Dungog Rob, was found at Glen Oak on Monday. The young alpha male was found quite a way from the fire where he was hit by a car.
Rescuers believe he might have been smoked out.
Time will tell if there are more koalas in need of rescue. The search for others hasn’t yet begun.
“It’s usually a process that takes a while and we actually can’t get on the fire ground until it’s handed over from the fire brigade and deemed safe,” Ms Aurino said.
Only then will the group's volunteers have the chance to survey the burnt area – a practice known as a black walk – to see how many koalas the fire might have claimed.
"We can't do a black walk across 9000 hectares – it's too much," Mrs Swain said.
"We can only hope to find some koalas alive around the edges."
- Port Stephens Koalas rescue: 0418 628 483.