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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

Janet Nelson, whose home was destroyed by the Canyon Fire, discusses her plans to rebuild after surveying what remains of her home on Wednesday afternoon.

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

At left, Markos Rodriguez and Sammy Meza, both firefighters with the Bureau of Land Management, work to extinguish a hot spot in the Canyon Fire on Wednesday afternoon.

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

Edna Nelson, whose home survived the Canyon Fire, examines what remains of the house next door, which belongs to her daughter, Janet Nelson.

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

The Blackburn Canyon street sign blends with the landscape of darkened trees after the Canyon Fire burned through the area just south of Tehachapi.

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

With the evacuation orders lifted, John Doss spent Wednesday afternoon sitting in his yard talking with neighbors as his two dogs ran about. The Canyon Fire spared the homes of both Doss and his neighbor, Dan Gentle.

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

Small stumps and tall trees, all burned by the Canyon Fire, blanket the landscape within Blackburn Canyon.

Janet Nelson dreaded returning to what was once her house in Old West Ranch.

Though she found out it had burned in the Canyon Fire well before she arrived home Wednesday morning, seeing the flattened remains in person actually made it easier to let go.

"It's just a big pile of junk now," she said. "It's not my house."

The Canyon Fire, which has scorched more than 14,000 acres in the Old West Ranch area near Tehachapi since a plane crashed Sunday, destroyed 12 residences and 18 other structures, Cal Fire reported.

Canyon Fire spokesman Capt. Michael McCormick said the fire was about 83 percent contained as of Wednesday evening.

McCormick added that while more than 2,000 firefighters remained in the area after minimal demobilization, a significant number of personnel will leave Thursday. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries.

The blaze was about 60 percent contained Wednesday morning, officials said, meaning the bulk of the work ahead lay in fire suppression and "mop up operations."

Those included efforts by firefighters like Sammy Meza, of San Jacinto, who worked with a Bureau of Land Management team Wednesday cooling small columns of smoke called "hot spots," which fire officials said could flare up into flames if the wind shifted.

Meza stood on the back of a fire truck controlling a hose as two co-workers hacked at the smoking ground with shovels, then filled the hole with water.

"It's pretty much just taking away the heat and the oxygen," Meza said.

He added that underground pockets of heat, which he called "dirt volcanoes," sometimes shoot steam into firefighters' faces after the pockets are hit with cold water.

Meza, who had been working since 7 a.m., said it was difficult working in the heat.

"Then you get sick -- all sorts of stuff," he said. "But that's part of the job."

Tom Piranio, a Cal Fire spokesman, said crews will also create "water bars," or dirt gutters designed to channel water around structures. That's meant to prevent mudslides, which could occur because of fire-weakened root structures.

"We assist Mother Nature in not creating any more issues," he said.

While fire crews from around the state doused hot spots and continued to assess damage left by the blaze, area residents trickled back into their homes -- or whatever was left of them -- Tuesday evening and Wednesday.

What greeted them was a decidedly eerie scene.

"It's like the moon, man," said Dan Gentle, a Blackburn Canyon resident.

Gentle was the resident who pleaded no contest in February to a misdemeanor charge of operating a device that kindled a fire, which grew into last year's devastating West Fire.

Gentle said he was "lucky" his home was spared two years in a row, and he's put considerable effort into brush clearing.

Kern County Fire Chief Nick Dunn said it's crucial for residents in rural, wooded communities to keep the area around their homes clear of what could become fuel for a fire.

"Last year we had a mirror-image of this burn with the West Fire. Some of the same issues we encountered last year are back in front of us again this year," he said. "Those that are losing homes are having difficulty understanding the importance of clearing around their home."

Some, however, say they understand how important it is to make a clearing -- it's just difficult to actually do it.

Janet Nelson's mother, Edna Nelson, lives next door to her daughter.

The elder Nelson's house, which survived the fire with almost no damage, is surrounded by trees firefighters advised the mother and daughter to cut down after last year's fire.

"They told us hers would probably burn and mine would be OK," Janet Nelson said. "It was the opposite."

She pointed to a blackened stump standing over the rubble that was her three-bedroom converted trailer.

"That tree over there is what did me in," she said.

Janet plans to live with her mother while she rebuilds a home "nicer than what was there."

And though neighbors had described 91-year-old Edna as "tough" Tuesday, the older Nelson said she was "dumbfounded" by the experience.

"I used to like to just walk up and down that gulley," she said. "Now it's all burnt."

"It's been mindboggling."