CROWSNEST PASS, Alta. (CP) - A forest fire blazing through a mountain pass in southwest Alberta is still too unpredictable to allow the remaining people it forced from their homes to return.

"We're just hoping that folks are going to have some patience to allow us to get our job done," wildfire information officer Lyle Fullerton said Thursday. "It's all weather-driven."

About 800 people from the community of Hillcrest were allowed to go back home Wednesday, but Fullerton said fire crews still hadn't built up enough fire guards to fully protect Blairmore, whose residents were still evacuated.

"The current situation here in Blairmore hasn't changed significantly at all," he said. "It's very difficult, steep terrain. But we've managed to get cat-guards in locations where we need them."

The fire remained within three kilometres of the town.

Crews were trying to direct a backfire Thursday to consume timber between the blaze and the town, leaving no other fuel for the fire's advance.

Fullerton said relatively high humidity the last several days has allowed firefighters to directly attack the fire's front, but winds could still whip up the blaze at any time.

"We're certainly at the mercy of the weather. That's the driving force. It's going well, but we're just asking that folks work on the patience level."

The Lost Creek fire remained at about 190 square kilometres. About 850 fire personnel were fighting it.

Fire experts have expressed concern the fire might ignite coal seams within Turtle Mountain, further destabilizing the limestone peak and increasing the risk of a rockslide. A major slab of the mountain crashed down on the town of Frank 100 years ago.

Little changed for several fires burning in Alberta's national parks. A fire at the popular tourist spot of Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park was considered extinguished, and the large Syncline fire in the southeast backcountry remained at about 250 square kilometres.

Low winds, high humidity and light rains all allowed firefighters to attack the fire directly, said spokeswoman Geri Syroteuk.

Further south in Kootenay National Park, Highway 93 remained closed as the Verendrye Creek fire grew on both sides of the highway.

Still, firefighters hoped to contain around 60 per cent of the fire, said a spokeswoman.

In British Columbia, where fires have forced more than 10,000 people from their homes, firefighters made more headway against three wildfires in the Kamloops region, but lightning kept crews racing to quell new outbreaks.

The largest fire, which razed the village of Louis Creek but spared the town of Barriere, was headed towards flatter terrain, an official said. The fire grew by 10 square kilometres in 24 hours to a total of about 180 square kilometres.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/7/2003 19:11 EST