Bushfire tragedy in 1934
On 11th March 1934 a bushfire, reported by The Advertiser as the worst that had ever endangered the Upper Sturt locality, proved fatal.
In rough timber country without chance of escape, Mr John Weymouth, 75, a retired builder of Coromandel Valley, was trapped in the flames at Ackland’s Hill, east of Coromandel Valley, and burnt to death.
The outbreak had begun early in the morning, swept an area of 20 square miles and was fought by 400 men, who had been battling fires for nearly a week in intense heat. There was a strong suspicion that the fire was started deliberately by an arsonist or, in language of the day, an incendiarist.
Mr Weymouth had been fighting with 50 others to keep a wall of flame from the property of Mr H. Baust when the fire rushed down upon him and he had no chance of escape. His son found his father's charred body, in a kneeling position with his arms over his face.
It was thought at first that Mr Weymouth was clear of the flames, but a few minutes after the fire had passed, a frantic search failed to reveal him in the unburnt scrub and his body was found at a place where the fire had passed through.
Mr Weymouth was one of the best known builders in the hills district. He built the first 27 houses at Eden and also built several homes at Clarendon and at other places through to Victor Harbour. He left a widow and one son – Mr Jack Weymouth, jun, of Coromandel Valley; and six daughters – Mesdames R. Winn (Coromandel Valley), E. Light (Blackwood), T. Jones (Coromandel Valley), W.A. Leaney (Hawthorn), Burpee (Clarence Park) and Miss Weymouth (Coromandel Valley).
School and Homes Endangered
The fire started in Newcombe’s Gully, east of Coromandel Valley, and according to newspaper reports "there was a splendid response to a broadcast appeal for helpers".
The fire swept through the valley of the Sturt Creek and raced through other gullies menacing dozens of homes and scorching many orchards.
At one point it was thought that the Upper Sturt school and post office, and the fine home of Sir Josiah Symon were in danger.
More than 100 men were concentrated in that area and "made a great save". The fire was stopped at Mr C. Morgan’s property, Ironbank, but not before it had destroyed a house and outbuildings on Coates Bros’ property, Ironbank. At the height of the blaze there was concern that nothing could stop it from raging through to Loftia Park house and grounds, and on to Scott’s Creek.
By 6pm when it was brought under control, the fire had devastated an area eight miles long that ranged in width from a mile to three miles.
The Advertiser, 12th March 1934, Coromandel Valley & Districts Branch, National Trust SA collection.
Coromandel Valley & Districts Branch, National Trust SA historical records.