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.
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.