“We’ve had fires that have threatened the ranch before, mostly Sherpa in 2016, but this is by far the biggest threat we’ve faced and biggest threat since the 1955 Refugio Fire,” Ranch Director Andrew Coffin told CNN affiliate KEYT.
Crews have been stationed near the 688-acre ranch to protect it from the fire, which by Thursday was between a quarter mile and a half mile away, the affiliate reported.
“Incredible work” by helicopters crews dropping water on the flames and bulldozer operators has kept the fire away from the property, Coffin told KEYT on Thursday.
Rancho del Cielo became known as the Western White House after the site, purchased in 1974 by the Reagans, became a landing spot for the President some 50 times during his tenure. It is now owned by the Young Americans Foundation.
“Winds are the primary force behind fire growth. … Strong down-sloping winds will continue to impact fire behavior over the next several evenings,” fire officials said Thursday in an update.
More than 8 million people in the Santa Barbara area under a red flag warning, which is activated when there is an elevated weather threat for wildfires to spark, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said Friday.
The warning, in effect through Saturday night, is triggered by the Santa Ana winds that will bring warm and dry air early Friday morning before peaking during the late morning and early afternoon hours, Shackelford predicted. Those gusts are expected to be in between 35 and 45 mph, with local gusts up to 55 mph.
“Combined with warm temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees and very dry relative humidifies between 6% and 12%, sparks can lead to quick fires. Also, these conditions are difficult for firefighters currently fighting the Alisal Fire,” Shackelford said.
California is experiencing a devastating wildfire season that has been exacerbated by the climate crisis, which is creating ideal weather conditions for fires to spark and quickly expand.
The Alisal Fire has grown to 16,801 acres since it was ignited Monday about 20 miles northwest of Santa Barbara in Refugio Canyon, and its containment is at 5%, according to InciWeb, the US clearinghouse for fire information.
Earlier this week, the fire’s threat forced partial closure of Highway 101 and Amtrak rail lines in Santa Barbara County, but those pathways reopened Thursday, county officials said.
Meanwhile, additional evacuation orders were issued for the area west of Arroyo Hondo to the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 1, according to local officials.
In addition, an air quality watch issued by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
“Smoke and ash from the Alisal Fire is affecting air quality, and winds in the forecast are expected to push more smoke onshore. This is a dynamic situation, and local air quality conditions can change quickly,” officials said in an update.