OPAL, Alta. - Rural residents driven from their homes by a brush fire in Alberta were told Monday that they could return after crews managed to put a break around most of the blaze.

But the Opal fire north of Edmonton was still not under control and the situation remained unpredictable, said Westlock County spokeswoman Peggy Hardinge.

"They've got a fire guard up and it's being contained," she said. "But the situation is volatile if the winds come up.

"It's a dangerous situation, but for the moment, with the winds calmer, it's being held."

The area has some recreational properties, but there are permanent residents as well, Hardinge said.

Hardinge said 11 families who left their homes in response to Sunday's evacuation order had registered with the county. That order came after high winds whipped up the stubborn blaze, which started Wednesday, to cover about 30 square kilometres.

Most of those had returned to their homes by Monday. Several areas remain on evacuation standby and a nearby reception centre for evacuees is ready for use.

Wind gusts caused flames to jump a wide strip of bare earth on the northwest corner of the blaze Sunday afternoon.

Fire crews were pulled from the area for safety reasons. Seven helicopters with large water buckets were also grounded by heavy smoke.

Monday morning brought calmer weather, which raised hopes that firefighters would be able to make the fire break hold. More than 200 firefighters were backed up by eight helicopters and air tankers, as well as bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

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