President and South Dakota Governor say Mount Rushmore July 4th fireworks will be restored

They were discontinued 10 years ago because of the danger of wildfires in the Ponderosa pine forest and poisoning of the water table from percholrate in the fireworks

fireworks Mount Rushmore Trump Noem
Part of the discussion December 16 at the White House was President Trump and SD Governor Kristi Noem stating that fireworks were going to be shot over Mount Rushmore July 4, 2020.

During a December 16 meeting in the White House with several Governors and administration officials, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Mr. Trump both said fireworks were going to be displayed at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota during the 4th of July holiday in 2020.

The fireworks were discontinued after 2009 due to wildfires that were ignited by the explosions over the Ponderosa Pine forest, and, very serious contamination of the water caused by the chemicals in the fireworks.

Below is a portion of the transcript of the meeting provided by the White House in which Mr. Trump said Governor Noem asked him for a “favor”.

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s a great place [South Dakota].  And you also are going to have a very exciting Fourth of July.

GOVERNOR NOEM:  We are.  We’re going to have fireworks.


GOVERNOR NOEM:  And I’m hoping you will —

THE PRESIDENT:  For many years — for many years, the fireworks —

GOVERNOR NOEM:  — you will come — at Mount Rushmore.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’re going to think about it.  Mount Rushmore.  They ended the fireworks.  How many years ago?  A long time.

GOVERNOR NOEM:  Gosh, it was at least 10 years ago.  So —

THE PRESIDENT:  Nobody knows why, but you just couldn’t have it.  And now you’re going to have fireworks.  And the Governor called, and she said, “You got to do me a favor.”  Right?

GOVERNOR NOEM:  And you did.

THE PRESIDENT:  And we worked it out.  And we got it done.  And you’re going to have fireworks.

In May, 2019 both the Governor and the President issued statements or tweets saying the fireworks were being restored.

President Trump, May 8, 2019:

I am pleased to inform you that THE BIG FIREWORKS, after many years of not having any, are coming back to beautiful Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Great work @GovKristiNoem and @SecBernhardt! #MAGA

Governor Kristi Noem also distributed a press release, writing in part, “[T]he State of South Dakota and the U.S. Department of the Interior have agreed to bring fireworks back to Mount Rushmore National Memorial beginning with the 2020 Independence Day celebration.”

The Memorial is administered by the National Park Service which is part of the Department of the Interior. The DOI signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the State of South Dakota, “to work to reinstate fireworks at Mount Rushmore for Fourth of July celebrations.”

Following the May announcements by the politicians, the NPS said it was not etched in stone that the fireworks would occur.

“The agreement”, said Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education at Mount Rushmore, “is the first step in a long process. The National Park Service will be working with the state, land management agencies, various specialists in a variety of fields, and will be exercising our authority under state and federal law to explore safe and available options in regards to the proposal. So, it’s a proposal. This is just the beginning of the process to look at that.”

Today we checked with the NPS again and a spokesperson in Washington said, “The National Park Service has not made a formal decision; that will happen through the [National Environmental Policy Act] and permitting processes. The NPS expects to release a NEPA document for public review in February, 2020.”

So, officially, no decision about Mount Rushmore fireworks has been made, in spite of the statements by the President and the Governor to the contrary. The word in D.C. is that the fireworks are a priority, so how would you place a bet? They will or will not happen?

During the first five years of the fireworks, Mount Rushmore was one of the seven Parks within the Northern Great Plains Fire Management organization for which I was the Fire Management Officer.

Mount Rushmore looking down from the top
Mount Rushmore administrative site, looking down from the top of the sculpture. Photo by Bill Gabbert June, 2001.

The park is not just the stone carving; it is surrounded by thousands of acres of timber and the Black Hills National Forest.

Part of my job was to plan for suppression of the fires that started when burning embers from the fireworks hit the ground. We mobilized dozens of firefighters during the busy part of the fire season and had them positioned just outside the falling-debris zone. We had to restrict out of area fire assignments to be sure enough firefighters remained available for the show. After the aerial explosions ended, we would move in, search at night in the steep rocky terrain, and extinguish the fires.

In one of the first displays over a dozen fires started. They were all put out when they were small, but it was proven then to be an insane concept to shoot off literally tons of fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest in July.

Mount Rushmore fireworks debris
Some of the debris and trash at the launch site of the fireworks at Mount Rushmore.

The shows left on the sculpture and in the forest unexploded shells, wadding, ash, pieces of the devices, paper, and poisonous chemicals; stuff that can never be completely picked up in the steep, rocky, rugged terrain.

In 2016 the USGS discovered that the ground and surface water at Mount Rushmore is contaminated with percholrate, a component of rocket fuels and explosives. They determined that the chemical came from the fireworks over that 12-year period.

Data from the USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter was measured in a stream sample, which is about 270 times higher than that in samples collected from sites outside the memorial. 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.

Update on High Plains Fire in the Black Hills

The service for Dwain Hudson who passed away while en route to the fire has been scheduled

 High Plains Fire
Screenshot from drone footage of the High Plains Fire northwest of Custer, SD at 7 p.m. MDT April 17, 2019. Video by Custer County Search And Rescue. Click to enlarge.

The High Plains Fire five air miles south of Jewel Cave National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota has been more accurately mapped at 140 acres. The lightning-caused fire was reported at 12:29 p.m. on April 17.

The photo above is a screenshot from drone footage obtained over the fire by the Custer County Search and Rescue Service at 7 p.m. the day the fire started. The image quality is quite good considering it was cloudy and was filmed 40 minutes before sunset.

Part of the fire is in the footprint of the Jasper Fire that burned 83,000 acres in August, 2000, as indicated by the fallen trees from 0:25 to 1:15.

The service for Dwain Hudson who passed away while en route to the fire has been scheduled, but the family is requesting that it be intimate in nature. Due to that and the limited size of the venue they are requesting that only the three local fire departments and ambulance service attend. The service will be April 27 at 11 a.m. at McColley’s Chapels in Custer, South Dakota.

Condolences can be sent to the Argyle Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 176, Pringle, SD 57773. More information will be at the Department’s Facebook page.

Firefighter dies while responding to wildfire in South Dakota

A firefighter that was responding to the High Plains Fire five air miles south of Jewel Cave National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota has died.

Custer County Emergency Management reported that on April 17, 2019 Dwayne Hudson, a firefighter with the Argyle Fire Department, experienced a medical emergency while en route as a passenger in one of the vehicles. He was treated by fellow responders and the Custer Ambulance Service on scene and continued to be treated while being transported to Custer Regional Hospital. However, he did not survive.

The High Plains Fire started Wednesday afternoon from a lighting strike and as of Thursday morning had burned approximately 100 acres.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Hudson’s family, friends, and coworkers.

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

High Plains Fire burns 100 acres in Black Hills

The fire is southwest of Custer, South Dakota

map high plains fire black hills
Map showing the location of the High Plains Fire. The brown dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 1:46 p.m. MDT April 17, 2019. Click to enlarge.

(UPDATED at 1:10 p.m. MDT April 18, 2019)

Wednesday afternoon a firefighter that was responding to the fire, Dwayne Hudson, experienced a medical emergency while en route and passed away. More details.

(Originally published at 11:18 a.m. MDT April 18, 2019)

A lightning-caused fire has burned 100 acres in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. The High Plains Fire is southwest of Custer near Pass Creek Road five air miles south of Jewel Cave National Monument and Highway 16. It was reported at 12:29 p.m. on April 17 and is being fought by federal, state, and volunteer fire departments.

Erin Considine, a spokesperson for the Great Plains Dispatch Zone, said firefighters expect to have it controlled by 7 p.m. today.

The weather forecast for the fire area Thursday afternoon will not be favorable for the firefighters. It predicts southeast winds of 18 to 21 mph with gusts to 30, humidity in the low 30s, and a high of 53 degrees.

Telephone company says Legion Lake Fire was caused by “act of God”

The 54,000-acre fire became the third largest in the recorded history of South Dakota

Legion Lake Fire
Legion Lake Fire December 12, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A telephone company that is being sued by landowners for allegedly causing the Legion Lake Fire claims the 54,000-acre fire was caused by an “act of God”.

There is no question that a tree falling on a Black Hills Energy power line created sparks which ignited the fire December 11, 2017 in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Three families claim in the lawsuit that Mt. Rushmore Telephone Company weakened the root system of the Ponderosa pine by digging a utility trench, making it less resistant to strong winds which were present when the fire started.

Below are excerpts from an article in the Rapid City Journal:

In its response, attorneys for Black Hills Energy deny almost everything in the pleading documents, save that a tree fell on a company power line. BHE contests their liability and suggests the plaintiffs themselves should be viewed as equally if not more guilty for their damage in the Legion Lake Fire. 
“Plaintiffs failed to mitigate their damages,” attorneys for Black Hills Energy write, “and any damages resulting from Plaintiffs’ failure to mitigate their damages may not be recovered.”
Mt. Rushmore Telephone Company’s response is even shorter, arguing the Legion Lake Fire was “the result of an act of God.”

The 10,000 acres of private land that burned in the fire is used for raising cattle and many land owners lost pastures, fences, and winter hay.

More than half of the portion of Custer State Park that was available for their bison herd burned, and park officials asked for hay donations to help the animals get through the winter. Over 8,000 acres of Wind Cave National Park also burned in the Legion Lake Fire and in the earlier Rankin Fire, but park spokesperson Tom Farrell said they still had plenty of forage in reserve for the 260 elk and 350 bison.

Legion Lake Fire
Legion Lake Fire, December 13, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Vineyard Fire may have been caused by flare gun

Vineyard Fire hot springs south dakota
Vineyard Fire at approximately 6:30 p.m. MDT August 11, 2018. Photo by Wendee Pettis.

A juvenile with a flare gun may have ignited the Vineyard Fire that burned 560 acres at Hot Springs, South Dakota.

According to a cause and origin report completed by fire investigator Jeff McBraw, a 16-year old girl “…stated that her boyfriend who is also a juvenile possibly started this fire with a flare gun,” McGraw wrote.

The Fall River County Sheriff’s Office will handle any further investigation.

The fire started August 11 near an abandoned vineyard and caused evacuations on the east side of Hot Springs.