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17 campers sickened in San Juan National Forest by unknown gas cloud

Seventeen campers fell ill in San Juan National Forest in La Plata County after exposure to an unknown gas cloud Tuesday night, according to the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District.

About 9 p.m. Tuesday emergency responders with Upper Pine River Fire Protection District (UPRFPD) were dispatched to the Vallecito Campground in the San Juan National Forest on a report of ten people who became ill “by an exposure to an unknown gas,” the UPRFPD said in a news release.

Responders were met by the campground host, and 17 people from four campsites reported illness ranging from wheezing to nausea, along with throat and nose irritation. Eight people required on-site medical attention. Centura Mercy Hospital in Durango was put on standby alert, but none of the sickened parties were taken there.

UPRFPD crews using gas monitors sampled the air around the campsites, no hazardous substances were discovered.

An Army veteran on site, who had experience with chemical agents, reported a possible tear gas, riot or smoke agent being discharged. Eye irritation, which would be a common reaction in the case of a pepper spray or bear repellent discharge, was not reported among the campers. Chemical bathrooms at the campground were checked as a possible source of sulfur or methane gas.

UPRFPD personnel, with three ambulances and a paramedic unit, were on the scene Tuesday night for about two hours. The incident remains under investigation and was turned over to the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office for further review.


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