By John Ramos

SAN MATEO (KPIX 5) — A cycling workout class was held in San Mateo Sunday afternoon to help raise money to save animals in the Australian wildfires.

SoulCycle has gained a loyal following with workout fanatics for its high energy spinning classes held in hot, darkened rooms with music pounding.

“There’s no better way than to ride and get sweaty with people that have some passion,” explained class leader Steph Stokes.

But Sunday’s class was more about compassion as riders arrived at the San Mateo studio to raise money to help save animals from the Australian wildfires. Katie Lawrence organized the benefit for her native country in its fight against the inferno that has already incinerated more than 18 million acres of bush country.

“I mean, I think the California fires, there was 200,000 acres, so if you look at that in terms of scale, Australia is just burning,” Lawrence said. “It’s a shame, it’s horrible. It’s horrific.”

The 59 riders focused on their workout, but hanging over it was the specter of a nation facing a monumental environmental disaster. Australia is home to some of the most unique species on Earth and already a billion of them have perished in the fires. And there is a genuine fear that some of their most iconic native creatures may go extinct as a result.

“I never thought it of it as something that would not always be there,” said Alex McCormick. The native Aussie lives in California now but can’t imagine her daughter growing up in a world without koalas or platypuses.

“So, I think it’s really important to raise this awareness because we do have a very special, unique country and we do have some really beautiful animals that are sacred to our heritage,” she said.

And what should be sobering to the entire world is that all this is happening during what should be the nation’s rainy season.

“The summer months are getting hotter. They’re getting longer. There’s not as much rain,” said Lawrence. “So the drought is lasting a lot longer. It’s all to do with climate change, isn’t it? It’s really shocking. We’re responsible for this.”

Sunday’s fundraiser in San Mateo raised $6,000, but organizers say what’s more important is for the world to keep its eyes open to the tragedy unfolding in the land down under.

The organizers are keeping the donation link open for anyone who may want to contribute. You can find it by clicking on: CHARITY RIDE FOR THEIR LIVES / RSPCA AUSTRALIA FUND