January 1884 seems to have been a particularly bad year. Temperatures all along the coast were the highest ever remembered by old inhabitants.
Fires stretched all along the east coast of NSW with only small gaps in between. Many persons lost all their worldly possessions and barely escaped with their lives.
At the beginning of the month newspaper reports began appearing about bushfires raging around the Moruya area. Violent hot winds had blown until about 3 pm on one particular day, destroying much valuable property and miles of fencing.
A southerly arrived causing the winds to change direction suddenly, saving many buildings which had been in danger but causing other problems.
When the fires passed it was discovered that Mr Heffernan had lost many out buildings but the house was saved.
Mr Thomas Emmott had also lost outbuildings and four pigs were roasted alive. With the assistance of neighbours he was able to keep the flames from the house. Martin Fogarty's house with all its contents was burnt to the ground.
Goodin and Son's sawmill at Glenduart was in great danger. Mr C. McIntosh's premises nearly caught fire several times but these fires were put out. Mr C. Crapp lost outhouses containing 550 bushels of maize and farming equipment.
A large area of grass land was also burnt. A number of other disasters were reported.
On Monday 7 th January about 9am a very strong north west wind again sprang up. All the old fires which had nearly died out were reignited and several new ones started up. Soon after the whole place for many miles around was in flames. At Turlinjah Mr William Keyes suffered
great loss. The flames enveloped his dwelling so suddenly that nothing could be saved. Even a goat could not be freed in time and was quickly roasted. Fire got into the scrub at Mr Mylott's farm at Tuross Head and also burnt the dividing fence between Mr Mylott's and Mr E. Hawdon's properties. Mr McLean's house was saved with great difficulty but all his grass was destroyed.
Mr Robert Anderson and about 15 other men set out to help fight fires at Cooboora, Mr Thomas Emmott's property, which had been damaged earlier. The wind reignited the fire and unburnt portions of paddocks were burnt. Despite their efforts the fire crossed the main Bodalla road into the Noggerula area, setting fire to Milligan's place which was completely burnt out. Nothing was left of the homestead but a few stones from the homestead chimneys.
Mr Anderson and the men rode as fast as they could gallop but the fire reached Bergalia, a distance of about 1 1/2 miles but were unable to save barns, stables, yards etc. with all their contents, including hay, farming implements, buggy and cart, harness etc. being lost.
Several times dwelling houses, the cheese factory and other buildings were ignited but were saved. A large group of men worked continually to save the Bergalia Post Office and dwelling. The fire then swept around, destroying another house and threatening another. It then roared on to the coast causing a great deal of damage to settlements in its path.
The wind then changed to a south easterly direction towards Mr Anderson's property Lake View, two miles from Bergalia, where it came to within a short distance of new buildings there. The wind became more southerly which fortunately saved everything except the fencing and about two thirds of the grass. At Bergalia the extensive milking bails caught fire at least 60 times from embers falling from neighbouring trees and was only saved by the unremitting exertions of Mr J.C.Anderson, the manager, and some of the station hands.
Bergalia is the property of H. Clarke Esq. M.P. The residence, cheese room and buggy were saved. Mr Spear, near the public school at Bergalia, (pictured) lost his milking bails and barn. The extreme efforts of the school master, Mr Lear, his son and some visitors, saved the school, the teacher's residence and its fences.
The Bergalia sawmill was in extreme danger all day for all the trees for many miles around were burning and the high wind was sending embers in all directions. Parts of the road between Moruya and Turlinjah were strewn with boxes, furniture and bedding as people fled from their homes with what they could carry. Some elderly and infirm were hastily removed from harm in carts. No lives had been lost.
At one stage it was feared the fires would engulf the Mort Estate at Bodalla but it was saved with only minor damage. The Kiora and Wamban areas were hard hit. Another disastrous fire broke out on the same day at Mungerarie, the property of Mrs W.T. Collett. It was fanned by a strong north wind. The fire spread over the country with great walls of flames, destroying everything before its path, including pigs in their styes before they could be freed, and incinerating two valuable horses.
All of Mrs Collett's furniture, other goods and buggy were taken down to the sand by the river where she sheltered expecting to see her home go. The house was saved mainly by the efforts of the family, including daughters, Mr Davis and Davey, the groom, and many townspeople who came to help, although the fire came within 50 yards up behind the house. One of the Collett farms tenanted by Mr W. Lavis was completely destroyed, with the house, furniture, barns and other outbuildings burnt to the ground. The barn contained a large quantity of grain and farming implements of considerable value.
On another Collett farm the tenant, Mr William Taylor lost everything except the house. As the fire was approaching Mr Taylor dragged all his furniture out and placed it in a field of green corn but flying embers ignited some of the bedding and the lot was burnt. The barn and other outbuildings had contained about 1150 bushels of grain as well as valuable farming equipment such as winnowing machines, chaffcutters, ploughs, harrows etc. Also lost was a large new dray purchased only a few days before the fire.
Mrs W. Hawdon, lying ill in bed, had to be removed to the river as flames were leaping over her house. All the Kiora people had to take what belongings they could and shelter in the river bed. Mr Benjamin Collett was burnt out. In trying to save some of his things his beard caught fire and he lost most of it. Passengers on the mail coach from Araluen to Moruya had a narrow escape. The bush on both sides of the road was ablaze. In a narrow cutting on one section they came across hundreds of marsupials, many scorched, looking for escape from the flames.
Great damage was done to Mr Stephen's property at The Burra and Mr Ling also suffered losses. Embers were carried to Yarragee a mile and a half away. The residence of Mr Luck caught fire several times but fortunately was soon under control with little damage. The worry was that if the fire took hold at Yarragee the whole town would be in danger of being wiped out. Some of the out buildings and milking shed near the residence of Mr W. Flanagan of Shannon View were destroyed. Mr W.H. Simpson, Esq. J.P. of Ninderra had great difficulty in saving his place. A large party fought to keep the flames back.
Wires and pole were damaged so there was no telegraphic communication for several days. The road between Moruya and Bateman's Bay was cut owing to the danger of trees falling across the road. The Araluen Road was closed for some time also due to the same danger. Bridges and culverts were burnt out. The country all around presented a picture of desolation. The winds blew several roofs off in the town. Mr Lawler and Mr Gildea had their premises damaged and the Bank of New South Wales also suffered. Due to the violence of the gale it was considered too dangerous to cross the bridge.
The town was shrouded in smoke and immense columns of smoke were visible to the south and west. There was no sign of rain. Water and feed were now very scarce. Cattle were wandering around looking for grass. Locals cannot remember a time previously in Moruya of such ruin and desolation.