A study by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services shows that residents of Missoula and Powell Counties in the past fire season visited emergency rooms over two times more than last fire season.

Air Quality Specialist with the Missoula County Health Department, Sarah Coefield, revealed the broad facts of the study late last week.

"The Department of Health and Human Services has access to certain surveillance data which is where they can query hospitals about why people went to the hospital," said Coefield. "It can determine why they went to the hospital, what condition brought them there. They looked specifically at respiratory concerns to see if there was an uptick this fire season. They were able to look at both Missoula and Powell Counties using their zip codes and found that there was a 2.3 times increase in people going to the emergency room with respiratory complaints compared to 2016."

Coefield said the preliminary numbers certify the Health Department's concerns for residents near the Rice Ridge Fire that they should have taken more precautions while living in the chronic toxic smoke over the summer.

"From our first look at things, we are seeing some definite measurable impacts from the smoke in those communities which concerning the kind of summer we had, it's not surprising and we hope to learn a lot more as more research continues."

The Rice Ridge Fire consumed over 160,000 acres from it's start on July 24 to the present, and is now the second most expensive fire to fight in Montana history at $45 million, after this year's Lolo Peak Fire.