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Michaela Olthoff of Great Falls, Mont., looks at the koala bear head she's painting at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Olthoff and 15 other amateur painters raised more than $600 at the painting event for victims of the Australian bushfires.
Michaela Olthoff of Great Falls, Mont., looks at the koala bear head she's painting at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Olthoff and 15 other amateur painters raised more than $600 at the painting event for victims of the Australian bushfires. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Michaela Olthoff of Great Falls, Mont., looks at the koala bear head she's painting at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Olthoff and 15 other amateur painters raised more than $600 at the painting event for victims of the Australian bushfires.
Michaela Olthoff of Great Falls, Mont., looks at the koala bear head she's painting at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Olthoff and 15 other amateur painters raised more than $600 at the painting event for victims of the Australian bushfires. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Brandy Noakes, left, and Jennette Bless paint koala bears at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The event organized by artist Beatrice Gentry raised more than $600 for victims of the Australian bushfires.
Brandy Noakes, left, and Jennette Bless paint koala bears at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The event organized by artist Beatrice Gentry raised more than $600 for victims of the Australian bushfires. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Paul Dutka-Chirichetti paints a koala bear at a charity event for victims of the Australian bushfires in Landstuhl, Germany, on Jan. 25, 2020.
Paul Dutka-Chirichetti paints a koala bear at a charity event for victims of the Australian bushfires in Landstuhl, Germany, on Jan. 25, 2020. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Victoria Young, 10, adds "fur" to the koala bear head she painted at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany on Jan. 25, 2020. Young and 15 other members of the Kaiserslautern military community raised more than $600 for victims of the Australian bushfires.
Victoria Young, 10, adds "fur" to the koala bear head she painted at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany on Jan. 25, 2020. Young and 15 other members of the Kaiserslautern military community raised more than $600 for victims of the Australian bushfires. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Members of the Kaiserslautern military community paint koala bear heads at a fundraiser in Landstuhl, Germany on Saturday, Jan 25, 2020 for victims of the Australian bushfires.
Members of the Kaiserslautern military community paint koala bear heads at a fundraiser in Landstuhl, Germany on Saturday, Jan 25, 2020 for victims of the Australian bushfires. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Nancy Brothers, left, and other amateur painters add colored backgrounds to the koala bear shapes they painted on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 at artist Beatrice Gentry's studio in Landstuhl, Germany. Sixteen members of the Kaiserslautern military community paid around $40 each to paint koala bears as part of a fundraiser to help victims of the Australian bushfires.
Nancy Brothers, left, and other amateur painters add colored backgrounds to the koala bear shapes they painted on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 at artist Beatrice Gentry's studio in Landstuhl, Germany. Sixteen members of the Kaiserslautern military community paid around $40 each to paint koala bears as part of a fundraiser to help victims of the Australian bushfires. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Artist Beatrice Gentry demonstrates to 16 members of the Kaiserslautern military community how to paint a koala, at a fundraiser for victims of the Australian bushfires, in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.
Artist Beatrice Gentry demonstrates to 16 members of the Kaiserslautern military community how to paint a koala, at a fundraiser for victims of the Australian bushfires, in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Jizela Dutka-Chirichetti puts the finishing touches on a koala bear against a yellow background on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 at artist Beatrice Gentry's studio in Landstuhl, Germany. Dutka-Chirichetti's painting will be auctioned off online to raise money for victims of the Australian bushfires.
Jizela Dutka-Chirichetti puts the finishing touches on a koala bear against a yellow background on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 at artist Beatrice Gentry's studio in Landstuhl, Germany. Dutka-Chirichetti's painting will be auctioned off online to raise money for victims of the Australian bushfires. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Members of the Kaiserslautern military community hold up their finished paintings of koala bears at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, to raise money for victims of the Australian bushfires.  The event was organized by Beatrice Gentry, second from right, standing.
Members of the Kaiserslautern military community hold up their finished paintings of koala bears at a charity event in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, to raise money for victims of the Australian bushfires. The event was organized by Beatrice Gentry, second from right, standing. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Six-year-old Kat Young, left, and her sister Victoria put the beginning brushstrokes on the koala bears they painted at a fundraiser for victims of the Australian bushfires in Landstuhl, Germany on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.
Six-year-old Kat Young, left, and her sister Victoria put the beginning brushstrokes on the koala bears they painted at a fundraiser for victims of the Australian bushfires in Landstuhl, Germany on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Members of the Kaiserslautern military community  paint the first strokes of koala portraits at a fundraiser for victims of the Australian bushfires, in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan 25, 2020.
Members of the Kaiserslautern military community paint the first strokes of koala portraits at a fundraiser for victims of the Australian bushfires, in Landstuhl, Germany, on Saturday, Jan 25, 2020. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Michaela Olthoff signed up right away when she saw an unusual Facebook post in early January: Paint a portrait of a koala and help raise money for animals that have been severely burnt or had their habitat destroyed in the Australian bushfires.

“I wanted to do what I could to help and this seemed like a fun thing to do with my husband,” said the 24-year-old from Great Falls, Mont., who has lived near Ramstein Air Base for the past year.

The wildfires in Australia have devastated large tracts of the country’s southeast, killing more than 30 people and, according to an estimate by University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman, more than a billion animals.

Days before Olthoff, her husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Olthoff, and 14 other members of the Kaiserslautern military community picked up paintbrushes in artist Beatrice Gentry’s packed studio in Landstuhl, Capt. Ian H. McBeth died along with First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. when their tanker plane crashed as they fought the wildfires.

McBeth, 44, was also from Great Falls. “We didn’t know him but it makes being here even more meaningful,” said Cody Olthoff.

Gentry had the idea for the fundraiser after sending a small donation to a charity supporting victims of the Australian wildfires and “wishing I could do more because it hurt so much to see what was happening,” she said.

The fundraiser sold out within three hours, she said.

The nearly $40 paid by each of the 16 amateur painters to attend – or around $640 – will be sent by the end of the month to an Australian charity, along with the proceeds from an online auction of paintings, including a colorful koala painted Saturday by Jizela Dutka-Chirichetti, who attended the fundraiser with her husband, Paul.

The auction is dedicated to the memory of the three Americans who died in the tanker plane crash, Gentry said. All three were veterans.

zeitvogel.karin@stripes.com Twitter: @StripesZeit

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