UPDATED with latest: The Alisal Fire near Santa Barbara grew from 15,445 to 16,801 acres overnight into Thursday, with flames coming to within a half-mile of the historic Reagan Ranch there.
“I would say that the burn line is between a quarter- and a half-mile from us at its closest point,” Andrew Coffin, Director of the Reagan Ranch, told Deadline on Thursday morning. Coffin, who remains on site, said his estimate was based on a visual evaluation and review of the published maps.
10/14/2021 – 6:30am. We've posted updated maps for the #AlisalFire on The Lookout. Fire spread 2.5 miles west and 1.25 miles SE in 24 hours. Maps based on infrared overflight captured at 9:30pm, 10/13/2021.https://t.co/SiBkH2Wj61 #AlisalInc pic.twitter.com/56jCwgiIWD
— Zeke Lunder (@wildland_zko) October 14, 2021
The fabled ranch, which served as a “western White House” during Reagan’s presidency, is within the zone of the evacuation order issued by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, but Coffin and a four other staff members have stayed on to assist firefighters battling the blaze. The home now is owned and cared for by the conservative Young America’s Foundation.
“We have remained on the Reagan property with the full knowledge of and in cooperation with fire personnel,” Coffin told Deadline. “Thankfully, they know well both the unique, historic nature of the Reagan property and the extensive resources we have on site, including robust water supplies & distribution and defensible open spaces around the Reagan home.”
In fact, firefighting helicopters have been taking advantage of the property’s two lakes, snorkeling up water to fight the fire as it advanced. It’s a decided advantage, given that other airborne resources have had to fly more than 30 minutes to access water.
Coffin says brush clearance has created 75 feet of clearance around the Reagan adobe — aside from two heritage oaks.
Winds have been a concern throughout the firefight, but “both overnight, and especially now this morning, winds are very, very calm,” said Coffin. That’s good news, and it might continue to hold true, as an incident command statement predicts “light and mostly onshore winds expected on Thursday.”
While onshore winds potentially could push the fire toward the ranch, the fact that they are light should mean firefighting aircraft — which have been grounded by high winds for much of the blaze — will be able to mitigate spread in the area. They were able to have some success on Wednesday.
#AlisalFire aerial shots from late this afternoon. Firing operation on West Camino Cielo & retardant reinforcing the Camino out to Gaviota. Air support played a prominent role today as 1600 firefighters are now battling the wildfire on the ground. pic.twitter.com/SKQ2yRJJ5n
— Los Padres NF (@LosPadresNF) October 14, 2021
Fire activity was low at the ranch this morning, and Coffin said he felt confident, but the staff does have an evacuation plan.
“If conditions required such action we are prepared to activate our water systems and leave the property through an escape route to the Santa Ynez Valley to preserve life,” he said, “but we have high confidence it will not come to that.”
The Alisal Fire’s western flank is more concerning. Winds there have been more difficult. This morning’s incident report warns of fire growth to the west. An evacuation warning has been issued for the fabled Hollister Ranch, a pristine stretch of coastline dotted by big ranches, some of which are owned by Hollywood A-listers. Stay tuned.
The Alisal Fire, as it is being called, had burned 6,000 acres as of midday Tuesday, but 24 hours later local officials announced it had more than doubled in size, scorching 15,445 acres. Part of that expansion was a run on the north flank of the fire that brought the blaze to about a mile from the ranch.
The map at left below shows the fire’s boundary very early yesterday (white line) and late yesterday (red line).
10/12/2021 – 5pm #AlisalFire update.
At about 5pm, fire was about 13,000 acres and had spread about 2.5 miles east and 1.25 miles west since 4am. Red outline shows 5pm perimeter, white line is 4am perimeter. Blue is 2016 Sherpa Fire, purple is 2017 Whittier Fire. #TheLookout pic.twitter.com/yGkDe6wYOQ
— Zeke Lunder (@wildland_zko) October 13, 2021
Part of the problem has been the wind gusting to 70 mph. They have limited the ability of aircraft to address the blaze, especially on its east and west flanks. Officials say there are five air tankers and six helicopters at the ready.
The good news is, the wind pattern is changing. But that may be a worry for the property once owned by the 40th U.S. president.
“We expect over the next few days to have a see-sawing event,” said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig. The so-called Sundowner winds, which blow from the land to the sea helped push the Alisal Fire from the mountains to the coast. But the “see-sawing event” means those gusts will give way to onshore breezes, which will push the blaze inland.
“Onshore flow will push these fires up into these canyons and into structures that have been, quite frankly, been protected,” said Chief Hartwig on Wednesday. An inland run on the north side of the fire could aim it right at the Reagan Ranch.
But just this afternoon, Santa Barbara Fire Department Public Information Officer Mike Eliason posted photos of super tanker drops and noting that, “Favorable conditions are allowing the use of fixed-wing tankers are working the north end of the fire along the Camino.” The Camino Cielo runs along the crest of the Santa Ynez mountains above Santa Barbara. It’s also the main road to Reagan’s ranch.
#Alisal Fire – Favorable conditions are allowing the use of fixed-wing tankers are working the north end of the fire along the Camino. Aircraft making Phos-chek drops include the BAe-146, 737, MD-87, and DC-10. pic.twitter.com/ZALZDXvAUb
— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) October 13, 2021
The conservative Young America’s Foundation, which now owns the property announced the following this morning:
“Our team has confirmed that tanker airplanes, bulldozers, and other necessary equipment has been dispatched to help protect the Reagan Ranch and surrounding properties from this fire.
“YAF leadership is working with Congressional allies and other leaders who are offering their support in acquiring resources to help fight this fire. We have been offered two more C-130 tankers to help fight the blaze.
“Fire engines are on the Reagan Ranch property and fire retardant will be sprayed around the structures. YAF is working with local emergency crews to provide access to two lakes at Rancho del Cielo which contain more than one million gallons of water. Helicopters were filling up from Freedom Lake yesterday.”
Fire officials said today that the blaze was only 5% contained and that they expected to be fighting it throughout the month ahead.
PREVIOUSLY on Tuesday: Fire crews are working to protect the ranch once owned by Ronald Reagan amid the rapidly moving Alisal Fire in Santa Barbara County.
The 688-ranch, Rancho del Cielo, served as the vacation home for Reagan and wife Nancy Reagan while he was president. The fire has been burning to the northwest of the ranch.
“The fire was several miles from the ranch, which has good defensible space, and several USFS engines were arriving to provide structure protection,” Santa Barbara County Fire public information officer Mike Eliason wrote on Twitter around 1 PM PT.
The Reagans bought the ranch in 1974, as his term as governor was ending. It served as a western White House during his presidency, hosting a number of world leaders. The property was sold to the conservative Young America’s Foundation in 1998.
The foundation said that as of noon PT, the fire was burning in Refugio Canyon below the ranch.
“YAF leadership is working with Congressional allies and other leaders who are their offering support in acquiring resources to help fight this fire,” the foundation said in a statement, adding that there were several fire engines on the property and fire retardant was being sprayed around the structures. The foundation also was working to provide access to emergency crews to two lakes at the ranch that contain more than one million gallons of water.
About 6,000 acres have burned in the fire.
Scott Walker, the former Wisconsin governor who is president of the foundation, said in a statement that they have “taken the necessary steps, as much as a property owner can do, to shield Rancho del Cielo from this very threat. I have confidence our team and the emergency crews will do everything they can to protect Rancho del Cielo and the surrounding area.”
Before Reagan became governor, he and his wife also owned a ranch in the Santa Monica mountains near Mulholland Highway and Cornell Road, near the Paramount Ranch. The 2018 Woolsey fire swept through the property, now part of Malibu Creek State Park.