Estimated cost for prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore fireworks site was $30,000

The President said he would attend the event July 3 event

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

President Trump said in an interview Friday that he intends to travel to South Dakota to see the fireworks as they explode over the Mount Rushmore sculpture July 3.

The 260-acre prescribed fire completed at the Memorial April 29 was planned at least in part to reduce the chances of fireworks igniting what would be the 21st wildfire started by the devices during Independence Day ceremonies over an 11-year span.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the New York Post:

Trump confirmed the visit during a radio interview Friday with conservative pundit and news aggregator Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent.

“I got fireworks. For 20 years or something it hasn’t been allowed for environmental reasons, you believe that one? It’s all stone,” Trump said. “I got it approved, so I’m going to go there on July 3 and they’re gonna have the big fireworks.”

On at least two occasions, May 7, 2019 and December 18, 2019, President Trump said fireworks were going to be shot over Mount Rushmore long before the Environmental Assessment process was finished.

The exact price tag for last week’s prescribed fire has not been tabulated, but Maureen McGee-Ballinger, the Memorial’s Chief of Interpretation and Education, told us the estimated expenditure was $30,000. It was conducted by a total of 54 personnel, including 24 firefighters from the National Park Service, 8 from the State of South Dakota, 6 from the State of North Dakota, 8 from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 4 from the Department of Defense and 2 local volunteer fire department engines.

This was the first broadcast burn ever conducted at the Memorial. One of the objectives in the Incident Action Plan for the project was to “reduce the likelihood of unwanted ignitions in this area.”

Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 30 2020
Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 29, 2020. Photo by Matt Danilchick.
Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, April 29, 2020. Photo by Paul Horsted.

Aerial photos of the prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 30 2020
Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 29, 2020. Photo by Matt Danilchick.

Yesterday a pilot from Colorado was flying to Rapid City and grabbed some photos of the prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore.

“Just shot with my iPhone so sorry for the quality,” said Matt Danilchick.  “I didn’t expect to see it!”

Actually, the quality was very good, Matt. Thanks! They were taken at about 4:11 p.m. April 29, 2020. Judging from the photos and the time of day, the ignition was probably about 80 to 90 percent complete.

Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 30 2020
Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 29, 2020. Photo by Matt Danilchick.
Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 30 2020
Mount Rushmore prescribed fire April 29, 2020. Photo by Matt Danilchick.

Prescribed can be an excellent method for restoring fire as a natural component of an ecosystem, and reducing hazardous fuels. As far as we can determine, this was the first ever broadcast prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. One worker at the prescribed fire told a photographer that it was conducted to prepare for the July 3 fireworks. On at least two occasions, May 7, 2019 and December 18, 2019, President Trump said fireworks were going to be restored at Mount Rushmore long before the Environmental Assessment process was finished.

Professional photographer Paul Horsted also shot photos of the prescribed fire, but from the ground.

Park Service conducts prescribed fire at Mount Rushmore

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

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.

National Park Service decides to explode fireworks over the Mount Rushmore sculpture

The Environmental Assessment released today led to a finding of “no significant impact” from the fireworks that were announced by President Trump May 7, 2019

Mount Rushmore
The sculpture at Mount Rushmore is located at the icon in this satellite photo.

In a result that may not surprise those who have followed the issue of fireworks over Mount Rushmore, the National Park Service (NPS) announced today the agency will again allow fireworks to be exploded over the sculpture for July 4.

During the 30-day period that ended March 30, 2020 during which the public was allowed to express their opinion about about the proposal in the Environmental Assessment, 700 comments were submitted. The NPS said, “all comments were reviewed, and substantive comments were responded to by subject matter experts.”

My main concerns with restoring fireworks which had been used over the Memorial 11 times between 1998 and 2009 revolved around 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.

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.

On at least two occasions President Trump said fireworks were going to be restored at Mount Rushmore long before the Environmental Assessment process was finished, on May 7, 2019 and December 18, 2019. This could lead a cynical person to think it was a foregone conclusion and the Environmental Assessment was a sham.

In a statement from the NPS released today, the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor of South Dakota both praised the fireworks:

“President Trump and I believe that our nation’s founding should be celebrated with the same Pomp and Parade that John Adams described in 1776, and having a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore once again will be an incredible spectacle for the American people to enjoy,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

“There is no better place to celebrate America’s birthday than Mount Rushmore,” said South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. “The majestic figures of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln provide a terrific backdrop for the fireworks, and we appreciate all the work President Trump and his team at the Department of the Interior have done to make this celebration possible again for the country.”

Prior to the event, the NPS said, they will work with partner agencies, including the state of South Dakota, local communities, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, and the fireworks contractor and staff, to develop the following:

  • A plan to address event traffic control, visitor management, and emergency response.
  • A plan for event staging and demobilization activities.
  • A wildland fire response plan.
  • A Unified Command incident management team and a Go/No-Go checklist.

Similar events could be permitted in future years if conditions remain the same and impacts are as described in the EA, according to the NPS.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

15 days left to comment on fireworks at Mount Rushmore

We are halfway through a 30-day period during which comments on a proposal to shoot fireworks over the faces of the four Presidents are being accepted

Mount Rushmore Fireworks garbage
Two months after the fireworks in 2007 while professional photographer Paul Horsted was working on a project at the Mount Rushmore sculpture he found and photographed garbage that was left by fireworks.

The National Park Service will be accepting comments about shooting fireworks over the Mount Rushmore National Memorial until March 30, 2020. The opportunity exists while an Environmental Assessment (EA) that was prepared to evaluate the effects of the fireworks is in the public comment period.

After March 30 the NPS will make a decision about whether to proceed with the fireworks over the faces of four Presidents.

At this link you can comment on the proposal and also download the EA. Express your opinion. (A backup copy of the EA can be found here.)


Our opinion-

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, therefore I have some background knowledge about the issue. There are three reasons why I am against shooting fireworks in the Memorial.

Mount Rushmore Fireworks wildfires fires fire
Paul Horsted shot this photo during the 1998 fireworks at Mount Rushmore that shows either fires started below the sculpture or fireworks shells that landed and were burning.

1. Wildfires
Fireworks were used at Mount Rushmore on July 3 or 4 from 1998 to 2009 except in 2002 when it was canceled due to the danger of the pyrotechnic display starting wildfires. During those 11 events 20 documented wildfires were ignited by the fireworks during the middle of the fire season. They were all suppressed by the 60 to 80 firefighters staged around the sculpture before they could grow large. The park is not just the stone carving; it has over 1,000 acres of timber within the boundary, and beyond that is the Black Hills National Forest.

Concerning the threat of adding to the 20 wildfires started in previous fireworks displays, the EA states that in a dry year a wildfire “would be more likely to result in a high-consequence fire burning outside the boundaries of the Memorial and toward the town of Keystone, South Dakota, up the northeast aspect of Black Elk Peak, or into the basin near Horsethief Lake.”

Professional photographer Paul Horsted attended one of the public meetings earlier this month that were conducted to collect comments from the public about the fireworks. He took photos of some of the exhibits prepared by the National Park Service. One of them is a map showing the locations of six fires that were ignited in 2007. You can see the rest of Paul’s photos of the meeting and the exhibits HERE.

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.

The EA has several paragraphs devoted to the perchlorate and states the concentrations in the water inside the Memorial are “orders of magnitude higher” than reference samples outside the Memorial. But that is an understatement at best. Order of magnitude may sound vague, but it usually means ten times higher. Unmentioned in the EA is the fact that data from the USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter measured in a stream sample between 2011 and 2015 was about 270 times higher than that in samples collected from sites outside the memorial, which were 0.2 micrograms per liter. 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.

3. Garbage
Another issue with exploding pyrotechnics over the Memorial is the trash that can never be completely picked up. Left on the sculpture and in the forest 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.


All articles on Wildfire Today about Mount Rushmore can be found here.

Park Service releases Environmental Assessment to use fireworks at Mount Rushmore

The EA downplays the amount of perchlorate found in the water caused by previous fireworks at the Memorial

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore

The National Park Service has released an Environmental Assessment (EA) as part of their plan to explode fireworks at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The next step is a relatively short period during which the public may submit comments about the EA.

You have 30 days, until March 30, 2020 to express your opinion.

After March 30 the NPS is supposed to evaluate the public comments and then make a decision about whether to proceed with the fireworks or not.

Download the EA and submit a comment. Express your opinion on the use of fireworks at Mount Rushmore. (A backup copy of the EA can be found here.)

Fireworks were used at Mount Rushmore on July 3 or 4 from 1998 to 2009, except for 2002 when it was canceled due to the danger of the pyrotechnic display starting wildfires. During those 11 events 20 documented wildfires were ignited by the fireworks during the middle of the fire season. They were all suppressed by the 60 to 80 firefighters staged around the sculpture before they could grow large. The park is not just the stone carving; it has over 1,000 acres of timber within the boundary, and beyond that is the Black Hills National Forest.

Concerning the threat of adding to the 20 wildfires started in previous fireworks displays, the EA states that in a dry year a wildfire “would be more likely to result in a high-consequence fire burning outside the boundaries of the Memorial and toward the town of Keystone, South Dakota, up the northeast aspect of Black Elk Peak, or into the basin near Horsethief Lake.”

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 scores of firefighters we had positioned in the forest around the sculpture.

Park Superintendents Dan Wenk and Gerard Butler promoted and encouraged the program that started numerous fires, rained down tons of debris, and as we found out in 2016, poisoned the water with chemicals. The U.S. Geological Survey discovered that the ground and surface water at Mount Rushmore are contaminated with perchlorate, a component of rocket fuels and explosives. They determined that the chemical came from the fireworks over that 12-year period.

The EA has several paragraphs devoted to the perchlorate and says the concentrations in the water inside the Memorial are “orders of magnitude higher” than reference samples outside the Memorial. But that is an understatement at best. Order of magnitude may sound vague, but it usually means ten times higher. Unmentioned in the EA is the fact that data from the USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter measured in a stream sample between 2011 and 2015 was about 270 times higher than that in samples collected from sites outside the memorial, which were 0.2 micrograms per liter. 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.

According to the EA the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning to raise the health advisory for perchlorate from 15 to 56 micrograms per liter. Maybe it is just a coincidence that it would put the contaminated water at Mount Rushmore suddenly within acceptable guidelines. But a process like this is consistent with other environmental policy changes by the federal government in recent years.

Another issue with exploding pyrotechnics over the Memorial is the trash that can never be completely picked up. Left on the sculpture and in the forest 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.

Here is an excerpt from page 38 of the EA:

Although it would be the responsibility of the fireworks contractor to remove unexploded ordnance and fireworks debris from the minimum separation distance, the rugged topography of the area would preclude complete recovery of unexploded ordnance and debris. Unexploded ordnance fallout and fireworks malfunction have the potential to cause impacts on buildings, structures, and the cultural landscape from burn marks and scorching, which occurred during past shows. A fireworks malfunction within the Hall of Records area could cause adverse impacts on the walls and the entrance to the Hall of Records…Past fireworks events have left burn marks on top of the sculpture and embedded plastic debris. The preferred alternative would result in additional unexploded ordnance and debris on the landscape.

The language in the announcement of the EA makes it appear that the Park Service wants the state of South Dakota to be the focal point for the effort to explode pyrotechnics over the Memorial: “The National Park Service (NPS) is evaluating a proposal by the State of South Dakota to host a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore National Memorial on July 3, 2020.”

Shortly after the EA was  posted on the NPS website, Kelly Andersson left a comment on one of our earlier articles about the attempt to use fireworks at the Memorial. She wrote, “… All y’all feel free to revise mine or write your own.” You can see it here — scroll way down, it’s dated February 29, 2020.

Other articles on Wildfire Today about fireworks at Mount Rushmore: