Wildfire closes in on Ronald Reagan’s Western White House

Fire crews battle blaze close to Rancho del Cielo where president hosted world leaders

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 13 October 2021 19:48

Related video: Aerial footage shows scale of California wildfire damage

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A California wildfire is inching closer to a ranch once owned by former President Ronald Reagan, which was referred to as the Western White House during his time in office.

A large highway remained shut down on Wednesday and evacuation orders had been issued after an expanding fire pushed on by winds increased the likelihood of wildfires in large parts of the Golden State.

County fire officials said the Alisal Fire covered 21 square miles (54 square kilometres), with more than 200 firefighters trying to contain it, but with only five per cent of the fire being under control.

The fire in coastal Santa Barbara County was burning near the Rancho del Cielo, a ranch previously owned by Mr Reagan and Nancy Reagan. Mr Reagan, a Hollywood actor who became the head of an actors’ union, served as Governor of California between 1967 and 1975 and as president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Mr Reagan, a Republican, died in 2004 at the age of 93. His “Let’s Make America Great Again” election slogan was later co-opted by former President Donald Trump for his 2016 campaign, which used the phrase but cut out the first word.

The fire started on Monday and moved towards the ocean, leading to the US 101 highway being closed. Fire officials said the flames threatened more than 100 homes in the rural area.

“The fire is burning in dense chaparral and is being pushed by strong winds and growing at a rapid rate of speed,” a fire update stated on Tuesday. In some areas, winds reached 70 mph (113 kmh).

A local emergency was declared on Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. They asked California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency to get access to state-level resources for both firefighters and residents forced to leave their homes.

Firefighters were able to raise the level of containment in Northern California of a fire that has destroyed 25 mobile homes, 16 RVs, as well as a building at the Rancho Marina RV Park in Sacramento County.

No injuries have been reported, and an investigation is still looking into what started the fire.

A man suffered third-degree burns across the majority of his body in San Joaquin County. About five mobile homes were damaged as a fire went through the Islander Mobile Home Park, Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Josh Capper told Fox40-TV.

Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to roughly 24,000 customers in parts of 23 counties to stop fires from starting from gusts impairing electrical equipment ahead of strong winds on Monday that caused trees to fall and dust clouds to be formed.

On Tuesday, the power was turned back on, but warnings of extreme fire danger are set to return on Thursday, with the utility announcing that it may have to shut off power to 29,000 customers in 19 counties.

PG&E has been blamed for a fire that destroyed most of the town of Paradise in Butte County in 2018, prompting the company to declare bankruptcy as it pled guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter. It’s also facing charges for blazes that were caused by its fraying equipment, including counts of involuntary manslaughter following a fire close to Redding last year that left four people dead.

The climate crisis has left much of California forests and brush dry, turning them into optimal areas for wildfires to take root. Gusts of wind cause huge problems for firefighters, with some fires that began late this summer still burning after having destroyed hundreds of homes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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