Park Service conducts prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore

One firefighter said it was to prepare for the July 3 fireworks show

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Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, April 29, 2020. Photo by Paul Horsted.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial conducted a prescribed fire Wednesday. The plan conceived weeks ago, according to what one of the firefighters told photographer Paul Horsted, was to burn 260 acres in preparation for exploding fireworks over the sculpture on July 3. Yesterday the National Park Service released the results of the Environmental Assessment which found there would be “no significant impact” from the fireworks that were announced by President Trump May 7, 2019.

In revealing the prescribed fire today the NPS said in a statement, “The burn objective is to reduce the build-up of dead fuels, in order to reduce the chance of higher severity fires.”

Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Visitors can almost see the sculpture at Mount Rushmore during a prescribed fire April 29, 2020. Photo by Paul Horsted.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial has successfully completed several fuel-reduction projects in the past to slow the growth of wildfires. These projects have primarily included mechanical thinning and pile burning, but no significant prescribed fires.

Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
A firefighter monitors a prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, April 29, 2020. Photo by Paul Horsted.

Some of the negative aspects of exploding fireworks over the sculpture, as learned from the 11 times it has been done in the past, include three primary issues:

1. Wildfires
During those 11 events 20 documented wildfires were ignited by the fireworks in the middle of the wildfire season.

2. Carcinogens in the water
In 2016 the U.S. Geological Survey discovered that the ground and surface water at Mount Rushmore are contaminated with perchlorate, a carcinogen which is a component of rocket fuels, fireworks, and explosives. They determined that the chemical came from the fireworks over the 12-year period during which they were used.

3. Garbage
The trash dropped by the exploding shells onto the Monument and the forest can never be completely picked up. Left on the ground are unexploded shells, wadding, plastic, ash, pieces of the devices, and paper; stuff that can never be totally removed in the very steep, rocky, rugged terrain.

Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
A visitor photographs a prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, April 29, 2020. Photo by Paul Horsted.
Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, April 29, 2020. Photo by Paul Horsted.

We thank photographer Paul Horsted for allowing us to use his photos. More of his shots including a time-lapse are at his Facebook page.

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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.

15 thoughts on “Park Service conducts prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore”

  1. This is significant. It’s the very first broadcast burn prescribed fire in their history. Very important, fireworks or no fireworks.

  2. Paul Horsted is NOT an unbiased source.
    I’m sure our readers can diagnose his issues without any trouble. His ready-made copy falls below your fine standards, Bill.

  3. Quit crying Bill … act like President Trump gave a direct order to Shoot Fireworks……for your information in just doesn’t work like that .

  4. A snowball rolls down the hill, to put it politely.

    This was probably directed from the very, very, very top, to the Sec’y of the Interior, to the Park Service, and then to the Park Super, that’s how things roll. If “somebody” wants a show, “somebody” is going to gets show, no matter what.

    If nothing else, at least someone is getting OT.

    Will there be social distancing on the 4th.

    Who’s going to clean up the “mess” left behind?

  5. And, it’s really, really hard to imagine that the NPS assessment, the EIS, showed that there will no significant impact.

    Sad, crazy times we’re living in, now.

  6. John, go back in the history of Wildfire Today, and there is a discussion, and mor3 than one posting, that Trump had with the Governor saying he was going to have the fireworks reinstated.

  7. I vote for and contribute to the Republican Party. I also do not do any outdoor burning at any time in Colorado. I have never set off any fireworks or fired any tracer rounds. I do not want any fireworks over the monument at any time. I want to use standing dead as fire wood in my house. Thanks ….

  8. Since I live 41 miles from the Monument I visit it frequently. Personally, I was happy to the prescribed burn. The area had several dead, dying lower vegetation and big piles of duff. Anybody who spends much time in area realizes that we have several wildfires every summer mostly from lightning strikes but occasionally from camp fires or discarded cigarettes. Its not always about the politics.

  9. So you guys are saying the local Economy has nothing to do with this decision … the research and I would bet there were Thousands of Dollars in revenue lost when the Fireworks stopped…….Sadly it’s all about the Money.

  10. Another problem with this plan for the fireworks that isn’t being discussed is that the agency is blatantly asking firefighters to accept an increased level of risk, just for the public’s viewing pleasure. Any wildfire that results from these fireworks will have been entirely preventable. I’d also like to point out what an obtuse juxtaposition this is, we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fire prevention campaigns only to have all that go out the window when a high ranking politician decides the truly patriotic act is to blow up explosives over a park right as fire season really begins. Federal fire supervisors do a tremendous amount of work to evaluate risk and mitigate wherever possible. While the risk may seem minute, if firefighters have to respond to IA’s they are increasing the probability of being burned, being struck by a tree, breaking an ankle, twisting a knee, etc. This risk is going to be further compounded by the fact that fires will presumably need to be suppressed at night, in the dark based on the timing of the fireworks show. Additionally, this season is already shaping up to be an early season for regions 3,4,5, and 6. Based on the number of ignitions that we see across the country from July 1-10, a large fire resulting from this fireworks show could result in a drawdown of local resources, leaving the backdoor open so to speak. Or even worse, response to a large fire resulting from the show could be hampered by a drawdown of resources stemming from personnel needs elsewhere in the country.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a 22 year old firefighter who would love to make a decent check chasing small fires all night on July 3. But I would be a fool to not recognize that increases the probability of someone sustaining an injury, or worse, in a situation where the alternative choice results in no increased risk for anyone involved. In this situation, it seems irresponsible to have folks whose job will not involve chasing said fires all night making the decision that’s acceptable for the rest of us to go do that. I cannot highlight enough that the decision to shoot the fireworks will result in fires that otherwise would not occur.

    Beyond the concerns I’ve highlighted here, this show will indefinitely degrade the surrounding ecosystems in a spectacular fashion.

  11. Kinda odd that a visitor would be allowed that close (pictured in this article) to RX operations…..

  12. It actually is all about Trump! He announced yesterday that he will be attending the “show” at Mt. Rushmore on July 3rd.

  13. I’ll say “well said” as well. I made extensive comments for the EA that it did not consider firefighter safety at all. They’ll be expected to find and suppress any starts (and there may be multiple at the same time) in some pretty rugged terrain at night, maybe fighting traffic and evacuations. And that’s not even considering if something does get away and IC teams etc have to be called in. All for a completely preventable reason; why not a light show or drone show if the dumpster has to have his pretty lights?

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