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Donations pour in as Australian wildfires continue to burn

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt  with NBC News World News
Image: Amy and Ben Spencer sit at a Bega campground after being evacuated f
Amy and Ben Spencer sit at a Bega campground after being evacuated from wildfires in New South Wales on Dec. 31, 2019.   -   Copyright  Sean Davey

As deadly wildfires continue to devastate Australia, celebrities have begun campaigning on social media to raise funds to support efforts to stamp out the blazes.

The wildfires have ravaged three states, claiming 24 lives, destroying almost 2,000 homes and leaving at least 12 million acres of land burned. World Wide Fund For Nature-Australia estimates approximately half a billion animals have been killed in the fires.

As the flames continued to devastate the country, fundraisers began springing up on social media.

On Facebook, nearly a million people helped raise more than $26 million for The Trustee For NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund. Another fundraiser has collected more than $3 millionfor WIRES Wildlife Rescue, while a third has raised more than $1 million for The Trustee For Country Fire Authority & Brigades Donations Fund.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by NBC News about whether the donations to the efforts to stop the Australian fires were among the largest on the website.

One viral fundraising campaign on Instagram by a nude model, however, had been shut down for violating the platform's terms of service, according to BuzzFeed. Facebook, which owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the campaign.

The efforts to raise money were also coupled with a push to raise awareness for just how much of Australia had burned during the weekslong wildfires.

One particularly viral image began to spread over the weekend. Australian artist Anthony Hearsey used satellite data from NASA to create an image showing the parts of the country that had been logged as fire hot spots between Dec. 5 and Jan. 5.

On Twitter, authors using the #AuthorsForFireys hashtag offered to sell signed books and unique experiences in order to raise money for fire relief.

As grassroots social media campaigns took off, so did celebrity efforts to raise money for those battling the fires.

At the Golden Globes on Sunday night, the topic was repeatedly brought up by presenters and award winners.

When actor Russell Crowe won the award for best performance by an actor in a mini-series or motion picture made for television, presenter Jennifer Aniston announced that he was not there to accept the award because he was back home in Australia protecting his family from the fires.

"Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based. We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is," Aniston said on Crowe's behalf. "That way, we all have a future."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under scrutiny for his leadership and his government's record on climate change as the fires worsened. He was criticized for taking a vacation in Hawaii during the blazes and chided for past remarks that appeared to minimize the link between climate change and Australia's escalating threats of drought and wildfires.

"There is no dispute in this country about the issue of climate change globally and its effect on global weather patterns and that includes how it impacts in Australia," he later said. "I have to correct the record here. I have seen a number of people suggest that somehow the government does not make this connection. The government has always made this connection and that has never been in dispute."

Other celebrities at the Golden Globes, including Patricia Arquette and Ellen DeGeneres, mentioned the Australian fires as they accepted awards Sunday night.

Off the red carpet, celebrities asked their followers to help in any way they could.

In a video posted to her Instagram, actress Margot Robbie shared images of her childhood in Australia.

"I'm sure you're all aware what's happening in Australia with the fires. I didn't want to show you more pictures of the devastation. I wanted you to see how beautiful our country is, because it is so beautiful, and it's really, really hurting right now," Robbie said. "And it really, really needs you to please, please donate anything you can."

Robbie said that despite being "terrible with technology," she had donated to a host of websites and that it only took her about one minute to do so — she asked her followers to do the same, even if they donated the price of their cup of coffee.

Other celebrities such as singer Pink and actress Nicole Kidman shared links to several fire services that were accepting donations.

"Our family's support, thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the fires all over Australia," Kidman wrote on a post to her Instagram. "We are donating $500,000 to the Rural Fire Services who are all doing and giving so much right now."