Los Angeles

Surrounded by Flames and Smoke, the Reagan Library Remains Unscathed by the Easy Fire

The Reagan Library was scorched on all sides, but no significant damage was reported at the hilltop complex in Simi Valley where goats are part of extensive fire protection plan

What to Know

  • The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library sits on top of a hill overlooking vast parts of southeast Ventura County
  • The library is home to documents, photographs and other items from the life of the president and former California governor
  • The Easy Fire left scorch marks on the library's exterior walls, but there appeared to be no significant damage

The curator of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was planning to participate in a national emergency training drill Wednesday. 

But when Randle Swan arrived at the office in the pre-dawn hours and saw the eerie orange glow over a ridge near the hilltop library in Simi Valley, he knew this would be no drill. 

"Instead of doing the emergency planning exercise, we had an actual emergency," Swan said.

Swan was witnessing the early stages of a brush fire that would soon threaten homes and, pushed by strong winds, burn uphill toward the library. The complex is home to more than 60 million pages of documents and 1.6 million photographs chronicling Ronald Reagan's life and administration.

The library, which overlooks parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, also features the Air Force One Pavilion, a hangar-like wing of the property that includes the airliner used during Reagan's presidency and the terms of six other U.S. Presidents. It also houses Secret Service vehicles and a Marine One helicopter from the President Johnson era.

By late Wednesday morning, flames from the Easy Fire could be seen from the floor-to-ceiling window at the pavilion. The entire complex was surrounded by smoke for most of the morning. 

Firefighters were positioned near the library, which was closed to visitors for the day. Flames came to within about 30 yards of the complex, but several water drops and firebreaks helped protect buildings.

There were some tense moments as flames appeared to be approaching from all sides, making runs up hillsides around the library, Swan said. The exterior of the library has scorch marks all the way around, but no significant damage was reported. 

"Everything worked the way it was supposed to," said Swan "The buildings are unharmed." 

That's due largely to the efforts of firefighters, water-dropping helicopter crews and their precise strikes, and extensive fire protection measures that were already in place. The property's brush clearance plan includes the deployment of goats, who devour brush each spring.

The vegetation consumed by the goats would otherwise become fuel for fires.

"The protected space, a lot of money and time goes into it so we can be prepared in case a brush fire like this comes along," Swan said.

Thousands of homes below the library remained under evacuation orders Wednesday morning. Those orders impact about 26,000 people in the community about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Helicopters and airplanes were dropping water and fire retardant as some 800 firefighters battle the flames. The fire is burning during two days of Santa Ana wind that are expected to be the strongest in years.

The winds are expected through Thursday night. 

Santa Ana winds, produced by surface high pressure over the Great Basin squeezing air down through canyons and passes in Southern California's mountain ranges, are common in the fall and have a long history of fanning destructive wildfires in the region.

Fall is historically one of the most dangerous times of the year for wildfires in California. Seven of the state's 10-most destructive wildfires occurred in October -- many fueled by monster winds, including Santa Ana gusts. 

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