Mount Rushmore July 4th fireworks canceled due to fire danger

The annual 4th of July fireworks at Mount Rushmore, which in the past has started fires and littered the ground with tons of fireworks debris, is being cancelled this year. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is surrounded by 1,200 acres of forested lands within the Memorial’s boundary, but it is adjacent to the Black Hills National Forest’s Black Elk Wilderness, in which most of the trees have been recently killed by pine beetles.

The National Park Service is saying the fireworks are being cancelled because of the risk of fire caused by the fireworks in the beetle-killed fuels. Navnit Singh, chief of interpretation and education at the memorial, said Wednesday:

The condition of the forest is such that, unlike any other year before, there is a greater risk of a wildfire growing into a catastrophic fire, because there’s more dead forest close to the park than any other previous year.

I was the Fire Management Officer for Mount Rushmore and six other parks during the first four years that fireworks were used on Independence Day at the Memorial. I developed a plan that would require that the weather and fuel conditions be within certain parameters before the fireworks could be used. We continued to refine the plan each year, settling on Probably of Ignition as one of the primary factors on the go/no-go checklist, especially after the fireworks started about 10 fires one year. All of the fires were small and were suppressed by the 60-80 firefighters we had positioned in the forest around the sculpture. One year the fireworks were cancelled because of the fire danger.

Mount Rushmore fireworks embers hitting ground
The Mount Rushmore Society conveniently has this photo on their web site, showing the Mount Rushmore fireworks with burning embers hitting the ground. Photo: South Dakota Tourism

In my humble opinion, igniting fireworks over and around Mount Rushmore is no way to treat the memorial, the sculpture, and the natural resources around the Memorial. The fireworks are disrespectful to the significance of the Memorial, they leave millions of pieces of debris that can never be picked up, they start fires, and tie up firefighting resources during a busy period of the fire season.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

12 thoughts on “Mount Rushmore July 4th fireworks canceled due to fire danger”

  1. I would fully agree with you. National parks were intended to protect and preserve America’s natural, historical and cultural history. Not allow fireworks and a Las Vegas style show along with starting fires and leaving a mess.

    Considering the money problems the parks are having who pays for the fireworks and the resulting cleanup and fire supression?
    It sounds like someone stood up and said “This is wrong” and used the fire potential as a sound reason.

    I would hope the ban continues forever.

  2. B. Morgan-

    I hope you are right about their real motive for cancelling the fireworks extravaganza.

    Today’s Rapid City Journal has a lengthy article about how terrible this is going to be for tourism, along with a photo of a tourist buying trinkets at one of the many souvenir shops in nearby Keystone. So I imagine the National Park Service is going to take a lot of heat from that industry for their decision, after training them for the last 10 years to depend on additional visitors on July 4.

    Much of the cost of the fireworks is paid for by a non-profit organization, the Mount Rushmore Society. I just went to their web site for the first time and saw a cool picture of the Mount Rushmore fireworks, with glowing embers hitting the ground.

  3. thats too bad my family was planning a trip this summer to dallas and then to mt rushmore for 4th fire works. we live in michigan which is 90% forrest and almost every town has some kind of fire works show. things go wrong every day maybe they need a better fireworks crew to do there show.

  4. We had planned a family vacation to as many National parks as we could see in a 3 week period. Our First stop was Mt. Rushmore for the 4th of July fireworks. This is certainly a disappointment! Forcing us to make other plans, and spend our money elsewhere.

  5. I had convinced some friends to go with us this year from Dallas to see the fireworks at Mt. Rushmore. We have booked flights and hotels but we will cancel all travel plans to SD. I thought an Independence Day celebration of fireworks at the monument the epitomy of patriotism–but we will look elsewhere for that…

  6. That is sad, I was going to take my family there for the first summer trip since we met .. I’ve been there before and remember a wonderful fireworks display along with the military fly over which then had a couple different planes. Guess we’l do Wisconsin Dells instead and hope that things look better next year.

  7. I grew up in Keystone sd and my father and grandfather worked on mt.rushmore along with many ohters that I knew growing up and I’m sure they all would have loved to see fireworks there on the 4th of July

  8. Family and I just returned from the Black Hill of S.D. Why show are patriotism at Mount Rushmore? The folks at Custer Fire Department, S.D. (ten air miles away from Mt. Rushmore) gave my family and I a full dose of Las Vegas style fireworks non stop for 52 minutes. It has been raining all spring and summer in the “Hills”. The grass is thick and dark green (0 cure) the bark beetle tress are like sponges. The Black Hills National Forest “Smokey” fire danger road signs all state “MODERATE” what a moderate chance of flooding? Someone needs to look outside at the weather. Thanks Custer F.D. for your Patriotism!!

  9. I just don’t understand why people think fireworks belong anywhere near a forest! Kudos to the folks at Mt. Rushmore for having common sense. And to the tourists that are whining, if you are only going for a fireworks show, lots of big cities have them. Our national parks should not be turned into “Las Vegas”!

    There are alternatives that do not produce the pollution, fire danger and noise.

  10. I have to disagree with the writer of this article.

    When the Monument was first dedicated back in the 30’s they used fireworks for the celebration. So fireworks are apart of the Monuments history.

    As for the debris left, the writer does not know anything about fireworks. Fireworks are constructed mostly of paper. After 2 or 3 good rain storms the debris is totally disintegrated.

    I also want to point out that one of the largest fireworks displays in the country on July 4th is also shot in a National Park and at a National Monument, The Washington Monument. Seems its OK to have fireworks there.

    Lastly I also want to point out that the show is not paid by the National Park Service. The fireworks show is paid directly from outside donations.

    Granted the show has a high potential fire risk, but, that is the main reason it is shot on the evening of July 3rd. So that the resources are available to protect the Monument and surrounding forest. Fire protection is already on site to handle the burning debris that does fall to the ground.

    Please do not condemn fireworks as disrespectful. They have been part of America’s heritage since the first 4th of July Celebration. Even the Chinese, who are credited with inventing fireworks, believe fireworks chase away evil spirits.

  11. Are the firework display at MT Rushmore ended for ever or just for the 2010 year?

    I’m tired of the BS about stopping this type of activithe. The fire fall at Yosemite was great, and is deeply missed by many natuare lovers.

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