BLAIRMORE, Alta. (CP) - An out-of-control mountain wildfire kept the people of Blairmore, Alta., out of their homes for yet another day Friday, as high temperatures and gusting winds prompted provincial officials to close down a huge tract of forest in southwest Alberta.

About 3,500 square kilometres of forest from Cataract Creek to the boundary of Waterton National Park is now closed, said wildfire information officer Pat Loewen. Campgrounds will be shut and roads blockaded, he said.

"There will be no public access," Loewen said.

Nor have fire crews made much progress on the Lost Creek fire, which remains out of control and is still burning about 2.5 kilometres from the community of Blairmore, many of whose residents remain out of their homes.

"Temperatures are quite high and humidity's down," said Loewen. "The forecast is not favourable for the next couple of days. There's no precipitation in sight."

The Lost Creek fire is now about 210 square kilometres.

The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass in southwestern Alberta, which includes Blairmore and several nearby communities, has been in a state of emergency for the past 20 days.

The 1,000 people who were evacuated from the southeast part Blairmore early this week - their second time this month - have no choice but to wait for a major break in the weather to help fire crews.

Fire crews had to contend not only with the massive wildfire but also four smaller fires in the area.

One of the smaller fires was near the Devon Gas plant, about five kilometres from Coleman which is also in the Crownest Pass.

The threat to the gas plant extended to a huge pile of sulphur, a byproduct of the refining process, sitting just metres from the plant.

Municipal fire crews, with the support of provincial water bombers and helicopters, held the grass fire.

Another 1,000 residents who have been allowed to remain in Blairmore have been carrying on their daily business in sight of the flames and heavy black smoke. For many days, they've been on full alert - ready to leave with one hour's notice.

Steep terrain and capricious winds in the area have made the Lost Creek fire exceptionally difficult to fight, authorities have said.

Further north, holdover fires in Banff National Park flared up late Thursday, licking dangerously close to the Trans-Canada Highway and shutting down power intermittently in the resort town of Banff. Hot, dry weather caused the fires, left over from a Parks Canada prescribed burn last spring, to flare up again.

In British Columbia, the 17-square-kilometre Plumbob Mountain fire came close to one of four homes evacuated Thursday in southeastern British Columbia.

But firefighters managed to keep flames away from its doorstep with a controlled burn that ate up the tinder dry fuel around the structure.

Near Kamloops, the 192-square-kilometre McLure-Barriere fire remained 60 per cent contained.

That fire is the largest of three Kamloops-area blazes that forced more than 10,000 people out of their homes. It destroyed the village of Louis Creek, about 50 kilometres north of Kamloops, leaving dozens of people homeless.

British Columbia has so far seen 2,044 fires that have devoured 1,090 square kilometres this year, he said.

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/15/2003 19:20 EST