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Wildfire not expected to threaten Reagan ranch


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RANCHO DEL CIELO, California (CNN) -- A wildfire fueled by gusts of wind over drought-parched land burned just four miles from the ranch that served as former President Ronald Reagan's western White House, but firefighters expect it to be contained within two days and not threaten the ranch unless there is an unexpected shift in the weather, a Santa Barbara County fire official said.

"I would not say it's an imminent threat," said Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Mike Patarak, who commanded the crew sent to the ranch to check its vulnerability and water availability.

Smoke from the blaze could be seen on the horizon from the entrance to the 688-acre Rancho del Cielo -- or "ranch in the sky" -- but it remained four miles to the west and moved no closer on Sunday, Patarak said.

The weather over the next several days is expected to remain favorable for containing the fire, he said. If the winds do shift, it could pose a threat to the Reagan Ranch, he said.

"It's a little bit more exposed than some, depending on the weather, but it has good defensibility and a good water supply," Patarak said.

Andrew Coffin, a spokesman for Young America's Foundation, which bought the ranch in 1998 to preserve as a historic site, said there is concern.

"There's definitely concern that it will cross the ranch property, but it's primarily dependent on the direction of the wind," Coffin said. The property's owners were confident that the modest 1,500-square-foot ranch home where the former president spent many quiet days would be protected.

"There's a pretty good chance that, even if the property burns, we'd be able to save the house," Coffin said.

The ranch has its own fire-suppression system -- an elevated sprinkler system to soak the buildings and grass and a fire-retardant gel that can coat the buildings in the event of brush fires.

There have been no reported injuries, but three out buildings have been destroyed in the fire's path, said Barry Peckham, spokesman for the Los Padres National Forest.

The fire started Saturday around noon (3 p.m. EDT) 10 miles west of the Reagan ranch in the canyon area known as the Gaviota Pass and moved eastward toward the ranch along the Gaviota Coast, fire information officials said.

The blaze has scorched more than 6,500 acres and led to the voluntary evacuation of 300-500 people from the Hollister Ranch community, west of the Gabiota Pass, east to Refugio Road, said Peckham.

"Most of the residents are scattered throughout the canyon," Peckham said. Those residents were allowed to return home Sunday evening.

The evacuation included residents along Refugio Road and Highway 101 leading to the ranch were evacuated, but the ranch manager volunteered to stay, Coffin said.

The strongest threat came Saturday, when 150 residents in the Hollister Ranch community were threatened during the initial stages of the fire, Peckham said.

The Reagan ranch, not to be confused with the Reagan Ranch Center in downtown Santa Barbara, is not open to the public, but students and schools can schedule educational tours through the Young America's Foundation. Many of Nancy and Ronald Reagan's personal effects remain in the ranch home.

"We're preserving the property," Coffin said. "It came to us fully intact, with personal items -- to the president and Mrs. Reagan's clothes in the closet. It's a place where future young leaders can come and learn about his legacy."

Members of Reagan's administration often visited the ranch.

Reagan once said of the serene natural property, according to the ranch's Web site, "We relax at the ranch, which if not heaven itself, probably has the same zip code."

The Reagan ranch comprises several buildings, including the home, a guest house, a small cottage next the guest house, a barn and garage, the ranch manager's home, the Secret Service command post and a hay barn, which holds a piece of the Berlin Wall.

Reagan died Saturday in Los Angeles at 93 after battling Alzheimer's disease for 10 years.

Five days of mourning are planned this week, including a state funeral in Washington and burial Friday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in nearby Simi Valley. (Full story)


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