The Alisal fire in Santa Barbara County threatens President Reagan’s former vacation home.
Threatened by fire
The flames approached Rancho del Cielo, the 688-acre ranch known as the “Western White House,” where Reagan and his wife, Nancy, hosted several world leaders.
Property manager Flemming Bertelsen said Wednesday morning that the blaze had occurred within a quarter of a mile of the famous ranch, but so far had “dodged a bullet.”
“We expected to be slammed by the fire coming up the canyon on us, but surprisingly this unusual north wind kept pushing it back,” he said.
Bertelsen, a former wildland firefighter, said he and four other workers continued to reduce fuel and defend the structure, including cleaning up dried leaves and twigs that have blown through the night. It was far too early to say the battle was won, he said.
“People tend to underestimate the behavior of fire,” he said, “and when everything aligns – when the winds, topography, combustibles, and radiant sunlight all align in at the same time, there is really nothing that can stop the fire from overflowing, even a complex as well defended as Reagan Ranch.
A rich history
With oaks and manzanitas and horse trails hidden in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Reagan’s ranch was a sanctuary from White House pressure.
The 1,200-square-foot century-old adobe ranch has hosted world leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth, as well as the Reagan family’s Thanksgiving dinners.
A story from The Times in 2004 described the ranch this way:
“George Washington had Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson had Monticello. JFK had Hyannis Port. And Ronald Reagan, ”says Reagan biographer Paul Kengor,“ had Rancho del Cielo ”.
Reagan called the sprawling 688-acre ranch just outside of Santa Barbara an “open cathedral.” “The ranch is more of him than any other California home,” says Kengor, author of “God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life” (Regan Books; 2004). “It was the most meaningful place in his life.”
In November 1974, just weeks before Reagan finished his second term as governor of California, he and his wife Nancy visited the property. He fell in love with it. She did not do it.
“When you go to the ranch, you start at the bottom of a hill, really a mountain,” Kengor says. “You need four-wheel drive. It’s very rugged and very bumpy. There are potholes. As they walked up the hill she would say, ‘No, no, please don’t buy this.’ He must have worked on it.
Reagan named the ranch Rancho del Cielo, or Ranch in the Sky. “The highest point is 2,600 feet,” Kengor says. “It dominates the Pacific.
During his presidency, Reagan spent a total of 364 days at the ranch, then dubbed the “Western White House.” He received Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip there on a particularly rainy day, and “they were all soaked,” Hannaford recalls. Reagan took Mikhail Gorbachev for a ride in his Jeep.
“He gave Gorbachev a Stetson cowboy hat, but Gorby put it inside out,” Hannaford says. “Reagan leaned over to tell him he had it inside out, but Gorby misunderstood because he wore it inside out for the rest of the day.”
After the Reagans sold the ranch, it came back to life as a venue for the conservative Young America’s Foundation.