CROWSNEST PASS, Alta. (CP) - Clouds moved into the region and light showers early Sunday helped crews in the effort to contain an out-of-control fire that threatens several communities in the southwestern corner of the province.

The rain was not enough to douse the blaze, but it was welcome nonetheless after a horrific day Saturday that saw temperatures over 30 degrees and gusting southwest winds that drove the fire to within one kilometre of Hillcrest.

The remaining 800 residents of the town were forced from their homes Saturday, joining 100 evacuees who had not seen their homes for a week.

Environment Canada forecast continued hot, dry weather and strong winds for Sunday.

The news was not all bad - Parks Canada spokesman Ifan Thomas said the Syncline Ridge fire had been contained in the back country of Jasper National Park.

Thomas said the risk between Talbot Lake and Syncline Ridge and down the Athabasca Valley had been greatly reduced.

However, facilities in the Miette Hot Springs and Pocahontas remain closed and a park-wide fire ban remains in effect.

On Saturday, 2,700 people who live in the southern portion of Blairmore were told to be ready to leave with one hour's notice, said John Irwin, mayor of the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, which includes the mining communities of Hillcrest, Bellevue, Blairmore, Frank and Coleman.

About 840 firefighters were trying to contain the blaze, which covered about 160 square kilometres.

Crews were doing a backburn on a nearby mountain ridge and helicopters were dropping buckets of water on the forest fire.

Ground crews were supported by four water bombers, 20 helicopters, 34 bulldozers and 20 water trucks.

In neighboring British Columbia, more than 10,000 people have been evacuated because of the threat posed by more than 350 fires and the government has extended a state of emergency to cover the entire province.

Officials are keying on four blazes in the south - two wildfires near Kamloops and another in the west Okanagan Valley.

As the fire in the Okanagan moved in a northeast direction, residents in the community of Armstrong were put on evacuation alert.

One blaze 50 kilometres north of Kamloops that forced many of the 3,500 residents of Barriere to flee was still burning in the downtown area and two subdivisions.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/3/2003 13:44 EST