Evidence suggests that ground at Mount Rushmore contaminated by fireworks displays

The U.S. Geological Survey has determined that fireworks ruined the water.

mount rushmore fireworks
Photo showing Mount Rushmore fireworks with burning embers hitting the ground. Photo: South Dakota Tourism

Between 1998 and 2009 the park Superintendents at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota thought it would be cool to explode tons, yes, tons of fireworks over the top of the memorial around July 4. For those 12 years tens of thousands of dollars, much of it donated, and thousands of person hours were spent on this ridiculous display. Superintendents Dan Wenk and Gerard Butler promoted and encouraged the program that started numerous fires, rained down tons of debris, and now we’re finding out, poisoned the water with chemicals.

The USGS discovered that the ground and surface water at Mount Rushmore is contaminated with percholrate, a component of rocket fuels and explosives. They determined that the chemical came from the fireworks over that 12-year period.

Data from the USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter was measured in a stream sample, which is about 270 times higher than that in samples collected from sites outside the memorial. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of perchlorates can affect the thyroid gland, which in turn can alter the function of many organs in the body. The fetus and young children can be especially susceptible.

The park provides drinking water to about 3 million visitors and personnel every year. Its superintendent, Cheryl Schreier, said Monday that the park will continue to strive to provide drinking water that “meets and exceeds current standards.”

But the USGS report says perchlorate in drinking water is not currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As Fire Management Officer for Mount Rushmore and six other national parks in the greater Black Hills during five of those years when fireworks were exploded over the monument, it was my job to plan for suppression of the fires that started when burning embers hit the ground. We mobilized dozens of firefighters during the busy part of the fire season and had them positioned just outside the falling-debris zone. After the aerial explosions ended, we would move in, search for fires at night in the steep rocky terrain, and extinguish the fires.

In one of the first years, there were over a dozen that were found. They were all put out when they were small, but it was an insane concept to shoot off tons of fireworks over a Ponderosa pine forest in July. The park is not just the stone carving; it has 1,200 acres of trees and other vegetation surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest. I made my opinion known, but it carried little weight compared to the GS-15 Superintendents and other government executives.

Aside from the impractical aspects of fires, cost, and ruining the water, the esthetics of the display were disrespectful and distasteful — explosions over the faces of Presidents Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln — raining down unexploded shells, wadding, ash, pieces of the devices, paper, and poisonous chemicals; stuff than can never be completely picked up in the steep, rugged terrain. From certain angles, it looked like the rockets were coming out of the tops of the Presidents’ heads.

The whole thing was, and still is, disgusting.

Painting with flame


Burning Florida Video

Jennifer Brown, who has produced at least six excellent short films featuring wildland fire, partnered with the former Fire Management Officer at Everglades National Park, Rick Anderson, to make this video, Burning Florida. The footage was gathered at a prescribed fire last week in the Florida Dry Prairie at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. The film has shots from the air (quadcopter) and ground along with the dedication from Mr. Anderson.

California: Casitas Fire in Ventura County burns 50 acres

Fire photographer Jeff Zimmerman sent us this photo of the Casitas Fire near Highway 33 in Ventura County in southern California. It started on April 28 and burned 50 acres before being contained.

Jeff wrote:

Another fast moving brush fire in Ventura County forced crews for a short time to retreat into a safety zone on a ridge top, in very steep terrain along Highway 33 at Casitas Vista Dr. and Ventura Ave. Approximately 60 acres were charred as crews raced to cut off the lateral spread. As the afternoon winds increased in speed from the west the fire jumped control lines, forcing crews into the black on top of the ridge line. The spot fire jumped the ravine and came up canyon in a steep bowl covered in grass and sage. I don’t think anyone was injured but it is a reminder that fire season is here in Southern California. Numerous agencies from Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, Kern County, Los Angeles County and the United States Forest all worked in unison to control the blaze.

More information from Twitter about the fire:

The image below, which seems to be a photo of a computer screen, appears to show not only the fire perimeter but also the location of firefighting units. Click on it a couple of times to see a larger version.

Alberta: fire destroys numerous homes in Fort McMurray

(UPDATED at 4:48 p.m. MDT, May 4, 2016)

Below is an excerpt from a Wednesday morning article at Global News about the wildfire that spread into Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Premier Rachel Notley said roughly 1,600 structures in Fort McMurray have been destroyed or damaged by a wildfire that raged through the city Tuesday night. Mayor Melissa Blake called the fire a “monster.”

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Notley said evacuees who headed north to stay in camps and lodges may have to be evacuated as well. She said depending on the wind, the fire likely will spread into Fort McMurray’s Thickwood and Timberlea neighbourhoods. The airport could also be threatened.

At 12:30 the Emergency Operations Centre in Fort McMurray was evacuated. The EOC was being moved to Long Lake.

As of 10 a.m. the fire was between 7,500 and 10,000 hectares (18,500 and 25,000 acres) in size.

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected on the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 12:45 p.m. May 4, 2016.

The map above shows that the wildfire at Fort McMurray is well established on the east side of the city and continues to spread. It jumped the Athabasca River in at least two places where it is 1,100 to 1,400 feet wide.

The video below is from a 10 a.m. briefing this morning by Fort McMurray Fire Chief Darby Allen in which he said:

There are certainly areas within the city that have not been burnt, but this fire will look for them, and it will find them, and it will want to take them. Our challenge today is to try and prevent that and prevent any more structure loss.

The weather on Thursday will be a mixed bag for firefighters and residents. A cold front will come through bringing temperatures about 20 degrees cooler. But in the afternoon the west-northwesterly winds will increase to 15 mph with the relative humidity dropping to 15 percent by mid-afternoon.


(UPDATED at 8:54 a.m. MDT, April 4, 2016)

Numerous homes were destroyed in the greater Fort McMurray area in northern Alberta on Tuesday as the fire that had been burning west of the city was pushed by shifting winds into the populated area. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo reported Wednesday morning that 80 per cent of the homes in the Beacon Hill community were destroyed. Other areas with serious losses included Abasand, Waterways, and Timberlea.

The weather forecast for Wednesday will not help the plight of the remaining homes. It calls for west or west-southwest winds of 7 to 14 mph, 84 °F, and 19 percent relative humidity.

Below is a map showing heat detected on the fire by a satellite, some of it at 2:20 a.m. on May 4. This map compared with the earlier maps shows the dramatic spread of the fire to the east and northeast.

Map Fort McMurray fire
Map showing heat detected on the Fort McMurray fire. The most current heat (some of the red dots) on the map were detected at 2:20 a.m. May 4, 2016.

The population of Fort McMurray is somewhere between 61,000 and 110,000, with the higher figure accounting for the workers and families who moved there in recent years to take advantage of the oil boom. With all of them under an evacuation order, the roads out of the city were bumper to bumper as residents fled. Some of them did not have enough fuel in their vehicles to get very far and became stranded on the side of the road. Authorities arranged for a  fuel tanker truck to patrol the highways to assist the motorists. Many of the evacuees were headed to Edmonton, Alberta, 438 km to the southwest.

The Edmonton Journal has a riveting video of vehicles evacuating the city as flames and heavy smoke encroach on the roads.
Continue reading “Alberta: fire destroys numerous homes in Fort McMurray”

Wildfire potential, May through July

On May 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for May through August, 2016. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their forecast is correct, the Northwest and Rocky Mountain areas will avoid unusually high wildfire activity while Hawaii and some locations in the Southwest, California, Nevada and southern Idaho could be busy in June, July, and August.

UPDATE May 2, 2016. NIFC took the unusual step of producing a video version of the outlook. It was released today.

Here are the highlights of the written report issued May 1. Following that are maps for June through August.


“Conditions in the mid-Atlantic and Appalachian region were dry enough through April to see increased fire activity at the end of the month. Greenup and increases in precipitation will decrease much potential through May.

“Heavy fine fuel loadings are expected across the Southwest and Great Basin, and lower elevation areas of southern and central California. This will likely increase fire activity in these areas throughout fire season especially when associated with dry and windy periods.  Fire activity will begin in May and June across the Southwest and transition northward as usual throughout the June and July.

“Warm April conditions depleted some of the mountain snowpack. Remaining snowpack should continue to melt off but remain long enough for a normal to slightly delayed onset of higher elevation fire activity. Nearly all higher elevation timbered areas are expected to see normal fire activity throughout the Outlook period.

“Poor seasonal snowpack and early snowmelt in South Central Alaska will likely to lead to above normal conditions in May, especially in the populated corridors.

“Significant moisture across the Central U.S. is expected to produce below normal significant fire potential, especially coupled with green-up occurring throughout this area.

“Most other areas of the U.S. are expected to see normal significant fire potential throughout the summer fire season. It is important to note that normal fire activity still represents a number of significant fires occurring and acres burned.”



Member of Parliament protests cuts to Alberta’s firefighting budget

In this video, Member of Parliament Arnold Viersen speaks out against the $15 million reduction in Alberta’s provincial budget for wildfire suppression. The funds allotted for air tankers was cut by $5.1 million while the base wildfire management budget was slashed by $9.6 million.

Paul Lane, the vice president of the air tanker company Air Spray said the company’s contract was cut by 25 per cent in the recent budget.

From CBCnews:

“The province has reduced the operating contracts, for not just us but the other air tanker operator, from 123 days to 93 days,” [Mr. Lane] said.

“Effectively that will mean that all the air tanker assets in Alberta will come up contract by August 16. The province has no guarantee of availability after that period of those air tanker assets.”

From the Edmonton Journal:

With dry conditions and dozens of blazes already burning across Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday her government’s decision to slash the wildfire budget by $15 million this year won’t impact the province’s firefighting efforts.

Notley chalked the matter up to simple budgetary practices that has the province earmark base funding, with the understanding firefighting efforts are covered in the province’s emergency budget.

“In no way, shape or form are we suggesting that we wouldn’t put every bit of resources that are required to ensure that fires are appropriately fought as they arise,” Notley told reporters at a Red Deer news conference. “This is the way these kinds of emergent and non-predictable costs are typically budgeted.”

Last year, the province spent $375 million fighting wildfires; none of that money was earmarked in the budget, but instead came directly from emergency funding.

After [the air tanker] contracts expire Aug. 16, the province will hire planes on case by case basis as needed, but critics say that could leave the government in a vulnerable position if companies look for longer-term contracts elsewhere.