Crews turn to rehab as Tejon Ranch fire dwindles

LEBEC, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - The Rancho Fire burning in Tejon Ranch is now at 95 percent containment, and now fire crews are turning to cleanup efforts.

The fast-moving blaze tore through over 700 acres since Friday, slowing traffic on the Grapevine section of Interstate 5 and threatening homes near Lebec.

Kern County Fire Department spokesman Anthony Romero said Sunday's favorable weather conditions helped crews to gain precious ground.

"We're at 95 percent containment, right now we're demobilizing people, so we used to be at 500 firefighters on scene, and now we're down to about 30-40. So this fire is little by little, putting itself out," he said.

With crews out of the woods on containment, Monday morning brought a new strategy returning the terrain to its natural state.

"They'll scrape everything back in to make it into a normal road, or the way it used to be on the hill," said Romero.

Sean Wolf is fire prevention captain with the U.S. Forest Service. He said protecting the watershed is just as important as suppressing wildfires.

"We're trying to prevent the rains from just pushing all the material down, because there's no longer anything to hold that in place," said Wolf. "Without the vegetation in place, everything that's on top of that, including the soot and the ashes all comes down, and funnels down, right below."

Wolf said maintaining the watershed is essential to sustaining a habitat for wildlife.

"After a significant fire, all those water sources can easily dry up, because the water's not able to saturate into the ground and go back out into the springs and so forth," Wolf said.

Romero said the cleanup effort will take several days, or even weeks, but the fire should be contained by Wednesday.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.