STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) - As firefighters continue to pray for rain while battling the bushfires across Australia, an Oklahoma artist is doing her part to help.
It's a level of devastation that is hard to put into words.
At least 28 people have died nationwide, and in the state of NSW alone, more than 3,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. State and federal authorities are struggling to contain the massive blazes, even with firefighting assistance from other countries, including the United States.
Significant amounts of flora and fauna unique to Australia have been burned or killed. One group of ecologists estimated that perhaps a billion animals have been affected nationwide.
For people who know the country well, like April Dawes, it is a hard pill to swallow.
"Because of our ties to Australia, my heart has been breaking over the devastating loss of life and habitat from the wildfires. As of last week, the World Wildlife Fund in Australia estimated that 1.25 billion animals have been killed either directly or indirectly from fires across the country. The koala population has taken a particularly hard hit and it is likely that the species will be listed as endangered in some areas. It is difficult to fathom the scale of that loss," Dawes told News 4.
As she saw the pictures of the flames swallowing forests and homes, Dawes thought back to her time exploring the eastern coast of the country.
"Australia is a breathtakingly beautiful country, with incredible wildlife and fascinating history, but much of the reason I fell in love with the country is the people. Through our visits and my husband's professional connections in Sydney and the Gold Coast, we have developed close friendships with several families and in a way, now think of Australia as a second home. There is so much to love about Australia; the beautiful landscapes, culture and of course the fascinating wildlife," she said.
One of the hardest things was seeing the loss of life when it comes to the country's animal population, especially the koalas.
As a full-time artist, Dawes says she turned to her art as a way to pay tribute to the animals she met during her travels.
"After looking through images from out trips recently I felt compelled to paint one of the koalas we met on our first trip. Originally I began painting it for myself, but as I was working on it I started thinking about how much I wished I could do something to help. I decided to offer prints of the painting in order to encourage others to donate to a worthy cause and as well as the potential to reach more people and make a larger impact," she said.
After finishing the painting, Dawes decided to sell prints of it for $40 each with all of the proceeds going to the Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Services in New South Wales.
"I chose WIRES because they are on the forefront of rescue operations in Australia. Not only do they rescue and provide care to rescued animals, but they educate the public on proper rescue protocol and are training rescuers on a regular basis. Additionally, they and are upfront about how funds are distributed within the organization. I felt this was particularly important due to the fact that I would be donating, not only for myself, but for others as well," she said.