Rain followed the fireworks at Mount Rushmore

Almost one-fifth inch fell shortly after the fireworks ended

George Washington profile on Mount Rushmore
George Washington’s profile on Mount Rushmore

Rain fell shortly after the July 3 fireworks show at Mount Rushmore. The official Remote Area Weather Station at the Memorial recorded 0.17 inch between 10 p.m. and 12 p.m MDT. In less than an hour the relative humidity went from 44% to 86%. The rain was followed 24 hours later with another 0.03 inch at 11 p.m. MDT July 4.

“We had crews monitoring on the mountain last night and they are still working today,” a spokesperson for the Incident Management Team mobilized for the event, Erin Hilligoss-Volkmann, said Saturday afternoon July 4. “There have been no reports of fires as of yet. We are continuing to monitor and will have more information soon. As you’re likely aware, there was a pretty significant rain event following the fireworks event.”

If any fires were started by burning embers from the explosions they likely would have grown very slowly in the sparse fuels remaining two months after the Memorial was treated with a prescribed fire. The rain falling within minutes after the program ended accompanied by very high humidity would have made it difficult for a new fire to grow or avoid extinction.

In addition to the 27 fires started at Mount Rushmore by previous uses of fireworks from 1998 to 2009, many of those concerned about the environment have additional concerns:

  • Putting even more carcinogens in the water. Studies from 2011 to 2015 by the USGS found 270 times more perchlorate in the water at Mount Rushmore than in the surrounding area and determined that it likely came from fireworks. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of perchlorate 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 trash can never be completely picked up. Left on the sculpture and in the forest are unexploded shells, wadding, ash, pieces of the devices, and paper; stuff that can never be totally removed in the very steep, rocky, rugged terrain.
Mount Rushmore Fireworks garbage
Several months after the fireworks in 2007 Paul Horsted photographed garbage near the Mount Rushmore sculpture that was created by the exploding shells.

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. Google+

40 thoughts on “Rain followed the fireworks at Mount Rushmore”

  1. Well I’ll say this… Let’s stop being so negative about everything. I support the event and would have with any President. As a veteran and firefighter close to retirement I stand for what this country is all about. As far as trashing of the forest… I live in Arizona and all of our forests anywhere near our border are trashed from illegal immigrants. They leave one or more acre spots all over filled with trash and I mean ALOT of trash. We try and keep the areas clean but to no avail. This is the greatest country on earth and will always have our issues. Anyway I love your work Bill.

    1. The environment, Wade, will never recover. Our water sources will be poisoned with more toxins as a result.

      AND, you don’t have to go to the border to find trash – that’s hypocritical – I’ve seen white Americans throwing their entire McDonalds’ food bags out the window of their car. You want to say one trash is worse than another because it is patriotic? Super hypocritical.

      And, just because we’ve been lucky, thus far, to not have a fire result from this (potential lives – animal and human loss) does not justify these fireworks – stats support this. There was a fire (and cover-up by the governor) in the Mt. Rushmore area days before this event.

      Lastly, the # of Covid-19 potential infections and lives lost is not worth ANY presidential visit ESPECIALLY if that president is just there to spout and entice hate and not about bringing this country together – especially during a pandemic. Talk about being negative.

    2. When you say, the greatest country on Earth, for who? You must be white, because people of color, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that statement before from them. I consider this country a synagogue of Satan, and the process for her sins, has finally started to repay, and it’s just the beginning.

      1. That is a disgusting and racist comment, Jerry. He didn’t mention color. No need to. This is a great country for all races. Open your ears and you’ll hear it from all. Take off the blinders.

  2. To you, the price to pay to see fireworks is a good deal, poisoning the water, trash, and possible fires. Right? And because there is trash along the border it is ok to have trash in other places?

    1. Never said it was. However lets start looking for good instead of all bad. All we hear is complain, complain, complain. We’re so much better than this. Two wrongs don’t make it right I get that. But what 90% of the population doesn’t see would blow their minds. Just something to ponder.

      1. The environment, Wade, will never recover. Our water sources will be poisoned with more toxins as a result.

        AND, you don’t have to go to the border to find trash – that’s hypocritical – I’ve seen white Americans throwing their entire McDonalds’ food bags out the window of their car. You want to say one trash is bad and another OK because it is patriotic? Super hypocritical.

        And, just because we’ve been lucky, thus far, to not have a fire result from this (potential lives – animal and human loss) does not justify these fireworks – stats support this. It is why fireworks were stopped at Mt. Rushmore over a decade ago. There was a fire (and cover-up by the governor) in the Mt. Rushmore area days before this event. Not to mention the event’s expense and cost to taxpayers.

        Lastly, the # of Covid-19 potential infections and lives lost is not worth ANY presidential visit.
        I do not believe what went on at Mt. Rushmore was positive for the nation.

      2. Agree with you, Wade! Too much negativity anymore. I like the way you think. I don’t agree with the pollution at Rushmore, but I agree with being more positive.

  3. What does it say to delete posts of respectful disagreement from a viewpoint different than yours?

  4. In addition to the report of rain July 3, I noted that AccuWeather.com reported heavy rain at the monument on July 2, for about 30 minutes during the afternoon. (I believe it was radar indicated.) I have not been able to find any accumulation report from that storm. Just wondering if there is a history available for that weather station.

  5. Thank you to Wade for having a voice of optimism and common sense. I have never seen so many people gripe and whine about everything. I ask all of you to remember when we first started in this outfit, and were overjoyed to get warm water and an old style box of rations. What the hell happened to us/society?

    I appreciate every one of you for the good actions you take. And I wish they would arrest every person who loots, robs, and sets fire to places.


  6. Sounds to me like God wanted t he fireworks to go on. He knew this country needed something that was normal for a change in all the madness and insanity that is America today. God bless and I hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July!

    1. This is exactly the thought I had when I heard of the rain. God must have known we needed this. I haven’t felt in YEARS the joy and pride in our country that I felt watching the program on July 3rd. This celebration was something we as a nation needed. I’m 100% behind fire prevention and proper care of the land, but in this case, I believe everyone’s been too cautious–probably due to common dislike of the current president and all he does. God bless our fractured nation…

    2. Amen, Caleb. That was my first thought when I read the headline. Had a great 4th here at Teton Interagency Dispatch.

  7. Bill, if you and others panicked about “perchlorate at Mount Rushmore” have two minutes to spare, read pages 21 and 22 of the USGS report you reference. That is the section titled ‘Implications of Perchlorate in Water and Soil,’ aka the “so what” section. Basically you would need to drink a lot of water straight out of the lake for a long time to suffer ill effects. For those who live or work there, these ill effects can be avoided by drinking filtered water readily available throughout the Memorial premises. The EPA’s decision not to regulate perchlorate was based on data and science.

    1. Sounds like what was said about the water in Flint, Mich. Until they were proved wrong. And how about the wildlife that does not have the choice to drink filtered water? We are not the only living things on this earth, but I think we have been charged with taking care of the rest of what is here that cannot fend or themselves when faced with the things we uncareingly do to the environment. The “we” includes those of every color and political belief.

      1. I understand what you’re saying, and I agree that we (all lives) should care for the environment so that we can continue to enjoy the use of it in many ways. And I agree that pollution can be, and often is, a problem worth solving. The rub is that people define pollution differently. Some are ok with raw industrial waste being pumped into a river. Others are upset with cow flatulence, or the fact that humans exhale carbon dioxide. Science helps us define pollution by studying whether or not something is actually a problem. And you may be right. Science is never “settled.” More data/evidence may come to light to show that the problem is serious afterall. But from what I’ve seen, that’s not where we’re at today. The data-based facts indicate that perchlorate is not a serious concern at Rushmore. If you believe otherwise, I think the burden of proof is now on you to respond to that data and explain why.

        I don’t think the issue here is the same as in Flint. Just because someone was wrong about that at one time is no evidence at all that someone else is also wrong on a different issue. Next, does wildlife need filtered water? Any data or science to suggest that the fireworks are having a meaningful effect on the animals, to the extent that making a change would be worthwhile? I say we make decisions based on the facts, not the deceptive, fearmongering headlines. Lastly, do you drink diet sodas? Just curious.

      2. I agree, Lenore, thanks SO much for your insight.
        The WHOLE picture needs to be considered, always.

    2. Raising legitimate concerns about perchlorate is not ‘panicking’. One of the ironies of the current dysfunctional national rhetoric is that the conservative side of the spectrum wants to ignore any negative impacts of entertainment or business as long as it isn’t economic in nature. It’s the only thing conservatives seem to value.

      The EPA’s decision wasn’t based on data and science as much as it was politics. Basically the EPA said in 2011 that it was a contaminant that should be regulated but didn’t manage to get a standard fully written before the change in administration. The current administration refused to implement a rule because that’s their philosophy about all environmental rules — they are all bad.

      If you think rules from an Agency run by chemical industry and coal lobbyists are going to be concerned with the health of the environment or the people, you probably need to do a serious rethink.

      1. Thank you for your intellect with respect to this, Cy. You are correct, our CDC, EPA, and other agencies seem to have different agendas nowadays.

  8. Speaking of “ironies of the current dysfunctional national rhetoric,” you just categorically smeared a large group with false assumptions. I don’t see why politics need to be brought into this anyway. My point was simply that the scientific study that addresses perchlorate at Rushmore indicates that, at present, it’s not a problem. Isn’t that a good thing???

    1. Keep Calm,
      You are basing your understanding of the effect of perchlorate on one study :

      EPA – fact sheet on perchlorate:
      FDA – questions and answers about perchlorate

      There hasn’t been much testing on the effects of this toxin on animals, what has been proven is that it causes thyroid damage and cancer in lab rats.

      Not sure why we are even considering whether the quantity emitted into our water sources is on a dangerous level or not, why would we even allow a small amount, knowingly, and on purpose?

      But this is ONLY ONE ISSUE that the Mt. Rushmore Fireworks have raised. There is also the pollution/trash left behind as well as the spread of COVID-19.

      Fireworks pollution:

      For those that know, COVID-19 is serious. In general, the US has had no control over containing the number of infected and deaths – in many States, it has not been taken seriously. Due to this, it is now out of control in our country, so much so that countries in Europe (who are recovering and getting back to normal) and Mexico are closing their borders to us. The fact that our State is still allowing large group gatherings is irresponsible. There is really no excuse. We have 3 million confirmed cases (of those who actually get tested) and 132,000 deaths to date and we are not even at the starting line in terms of containing this. Florida, Texas, and Arizona – States that have never took the spread of the virus seriously are now out of control. These States are breaking their record numbers on a daily basis. Their hospitals are full. Our medical workers are overworked and at risk of exposure daily – over 600 have died and over 90,000 infected thus far. Texas has now said “oops!” and mandated the wearing of masks and social distancing. Arizona’s known cases have now passed over 100,000 (that is 1/2 of SD’s entire population). Florida has over 190,000 known cases and over 3,700 known deaths. This is not just the flu, it is a horrible, horrible way to die (alone, in a hospital bed with breathing tubes) and has long-lasting effects on its survivors as it attacks the lungs, kidneys, brain, and heart. The fact that SD is allowing these events without even attempts at social distancing and the wearing of masks is completely reckless.



      1. Wendy,

        When it comes to scientific studies, I think it’s quality that counts, not quantity. I could go out to Rushmore and conduct 1,000 homemade “studies,” but they would not outweigh even one study done according to proper scientific standards. So aside from, “it’s just one study,” what problem do you have with the USGS study that has been referenced? Was it not done properly?

        The EPA fact sheet and the FDA Q&A do not mention Rushmore, nor do they contradict the USGS report’s conclusion that perchlorate levels at Rushmore are not a problem. Perchlorate only becomes a problem at what the scientists consider “high doses,” and the amounts at Rushmore are nowhere near that.

        The question of “whether the quantity emitted into our water sources is on a dangerous level or not” is indeed the key to this issue. We encounter numerous contaminants and harmful substances virtually every minute of every day. Most of these are naturally occurring (viruses, bacteria, etc.). None of it makes the news or bothers us because, at the levels we encounter them, they don’t have the slightest effect on us. The food you eat, the water from your tap, the air you breathe in your home…it all puts your body in contact with “harmful substances.”

        Just because something would be harmful at a high dosage does not mean that unharmful doses must also be treated as harmful. Trust the science, not the emotion-baiting headlines.

        I don’t see what COVID has to do with perchlorate, so I won’t comment on that. It seems like a “move the goalposts” technique to serve a political argument. Same with the pollution issue. I agree that pollution is a bad thing. But if that’s your concern, there are much better targets for your attention that will yield a bigger difference in solving pollution than that caused by fireworks at Mount Rushmore. Unless once again the concern traces back more to politics than to a pure concern for the environment.

        1. The EPA and FDA are driven by science. These articles directly refer to the toxin, perchlorate, whether at Mt. Rushmore or not. Small doses are not a problem is solely your conclusion. If it wasn’t a concern, why is Mt. Rushmore filtering their water? Also, as I previously stated, its effect on our wildlife has not been researched. In addition, I am not one who compares one pollutant to another, I base all pollutants on their own standing. Fireworks pollute the air, the land, and the water. They are harmful to the environment, period.

          As far as the July 3rd event is concerned, you choose to focus solely on perchlorate which in my estimation is short-sited. My focus is broader, and addresses why I believe the entire event should not have happened in the first place.

          Lastly, I take offense at you disparaging my comments (which I supported with plenty of facts to back them up):

          1. “I agree that pollution is a bad thing. But if that’s your concern, there are much better targets for your attention that will yield a bigger difference in solving pollution than that caused by fireworks at Mount Rushmore.”
          Why do you think it is OK to tell me where/what I should focus my attention on? I have every right to speak about anything I deem the need to, just as you do.
          2. “Trust the science, not the emotion-baiting headlines.”
          Not even comment-worthy.

          1. Sorry my comments offended. My intention is not to disparage, but to disagree and add perspective.

            When I read something, sometimes I just believe it. Other times I wonder, “Is that really true?” I think that question should cross our minds often. So I hear someone say, “Fireworks at Rushmore must be stopped because perchlorate!” Is that really true? Is there harm in asking and looking into it?

            If perchlorate from fireworks causes meaningful harm to people, wildlife, or the environment then yes, changes should be made. But let’s find out if that’s true before we decide.

            I too have thoughts on the event more broadly, but for clarity my comments here are confined to the perchlorate/fireworks concern.

            Regarding pollution, yes, fireworks cause pollution. The question/debate is how much pollution do they cause, and is that amount enough to worry about?

            This might be an unpleasant truth, but pollution is hard wired into our existence. You cannot exist without experiencing pollution or causing it yourself. I’m guessing that doesn’t bother you because you believe that the pollution you cause is small enough to be acceptable. Don’t you have some possessions that are not biodegradable? You produce waste, you exhale CO2, you leave footprints when you walk. The food you eat only gets to your plate after numerous pollution-producing processes. Electricity doesn’t happen without pollution. On and on. But fear not because the resilience of Planet Earth takes most of this in stride.

            So, aside from being part of an event you didn’t like, how do you determine that the pollution from fireworks is not acceptable?

            1. Be Calm,

              I don’t need pollution to be explained to me. I, for one, am very aware of my carbon footprint.

              And again, please don’t continue to justify this pollution by comparing it to how much other pollution there is – not a valid argument to justify knowingly contributing to pollution.

              As I addressed in my initial comment, why would you knowingly pollute when you don’t have to?

              And, Be Calm, I do not support the use of fireworks anywhere. South Dakota happens to be my home and the Mt. Rushmore area very fire-prone. As I spelled out in my previous comments, these fireworks (as well as the overall event) were callous. The event took risks well-aware of the potential harm it could place on people and our environment.

              Lastly, my analysis reaches well beyond the perchlorate argument to the big picture, there is a lot more to consider here.

              1. Wendy,

                That still leaves the basic question on the table. How do you know that your “carbon footprint” is on the “that’s ok” side of the line, and fireworks are on the “not ok” side of the line? Is there an objective standard you are using? Or is it just your personal opinion?

                Just because an area can be considered “fire-prone” does not mean we must adopt a zero-risk mentality. In America, we can do hard things. We can innovate creative solutions above and beyond rudimentary either/or choices. It’s not a choice between fireworks or no fireworks. We can choose fireworks with appropriate risk mitigations measures. Everyone wins (until political biases are factored in).

                I am thankful for the overwhelmingly positive message of the event and speech. Our monuments serve as important reminders of great people and events in our history. There should be more such monuments, not fewer.

      2. Apparently my response is not allowed. I respect your opinion, but based on the science, I see things differently.

  9. Keep Calm,

    NO PERSON’s carbon footprint is on the absolute safe side! Ridiculous attempt again to justify this event.

    AGAIN. why would we deliberately pollute, risk fire, contribute to the COVID-19 spread, risk damage to our environment, property, people, and wildlife?

    It isn’t about politics, sir.
    There is no way you can logically support the rationale of this event with science. Your true intentions are clear.
    I will end this now.

    1. Wendy,

      Scientists publish studies. Biased know-nothings in the media write the headlines and spin the stories about the studies. Read the studies.

      You are entitled to your opinions, but that’s all. You don’t get to decide that your pollution is allowed to continue, and that other people’s pollution has to stop.

      If you want others to join the way you think or feel, you have to persuade, not force. Some people won’t be persuaded on this issue by someone who has no science-backed argument, and who can’t/won’t defend her own pollution. Caring for Planet Earth is critically important, but it does not require zero pollution or demonizing fireworks to accomplish that.

      It’s disappointing to see the broader concern for the environment co-opted and weaponized to serve political biases. It cheapens legitimate environmental concerns. Our environment deserves better.

      1. Sorry, not political, and I have backed all my comments with fact and focus. And, I am not telling you how to think or feel or what you should or shouldn’t do, it is not my place.
        Have a great weekend!

      2. Thanks Wendy, you too.

        And thanks, Wade. Sadly it’s unusual these days for people on different sides of many issues to discuss them. There’s a lot of misinformation out there designed to shout down opposing views and productive debate. I appreciate Wendy’s and others’ willingness to listen and respond.

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