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Seeley Lake Residents Studied For Extended Harmful Effects Of Wildfire Smoke

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As the Rice Ridge Fire raged this summer, the residents in and around Seeley Lake suffered through historically hazardous smoke, day in and day out, and now, scientists are studying its effects.

Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield said her department reached out to the University of Montana for help in studying the people who suffered so long in the smoky conditions.

“It happened very quickly, just because we had some really talented minds on it and we were able to go to Seeley Lake yesterday and took enough material to screen about 100 folks,” Coefield said. “The interest was really high, and we had to turn away lots of people because the response was amazing and we had a huge turnout.”

Coefield said researchers want to discover the effects of extended exposure to such high levels of hazardous wildfire smoke.

“In my heart of hearts, I want everyone to be OK, I want to find out that they’re fine, and I’m really concerned that they aren’t,” she said. “I’ve heard anecdotally that there’s a woman who was hospitalized for pneumonia after being in the smoke. I spoke to a gentleman who coughed so much that his lung deflated. I don’t have any concrete data yet, but from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen, yes, people have been hospitalized because of smoke exposure.”

Coefield said the UM scientists and health workers will take the data they’ve gathered and run more studies to determine just what happened. But,She said the people of Seeley Lake were responsive and generous.

“It was a positive experience,” she said. “The folks who were there were very kind and very interested, and hopefully, we can get some really good answers.”

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