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Watertown Cancels Independence Day Fireworks; What About Mount Rushmore?

Watertown city officials figure coronavirus is serious enough to cancel the Independence Day fireworks they had scheduled for July 3:

With South Dakota’s COVID-19 peak projected for mid-June, we do not believe it is prudent to invite thousands to gather for this event only two weeks later. Furthermore, this is not the right time to ask local businesses for money to pay for this event nor for the public to take on the expense when needed purchases are being delayed due to uncertain economic conditions [Mayor Sarah Caron, press release, posted by KELO-TV, 2020.04.25].

Which reminds me: are fireworks still on at Mount Rushmore? If it’s not prudent to gather thousands of people in Watertown for fireworks on July 3, it’s less prudent gather tens of thousands of people in a highly flammable forest for fireworks on July 3.

Appropriate gear for fireworks at Mount Rushmore?
Appropriate gear for fireworks at Mount Rushmore?

The National Park Service drafted an environmental statement contending that the fire risk of fireworks over the famous four faces isn’t that great. (although there are rumors that the National Forest Service has to bring in “volunteers” from the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to cover the extra work fireworks at Rushmore will create). The draft says there may be a 60% chance of a “modest wildfire” likely confined to the memorial grounds, maybe a little bit of water contamination, and more burn marks adding to those created the last few times we launched rockets at the famous four faces. The draft impact assessment, posted February 27, does not address the potential impact of coronavirus spread through spectators crowding the park and Keystone and surrounding vantage points.

Also not figuring coronavirus into his impact statement was Bill Gabbert, who put out fires from past Rushmore fireworks and who wrote in December that Kristi Noem and Donald Trump’s intent to shoot fireworks over Mount Rushmore was insane:

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.

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.

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 [Bill Gabbert, “President and South Dakota Governor Say Mount Rushmore July 4th Fireworks Will Be Restored,” Wildfire Today, 2019.12.18].

Wildfire and coronavirus? Maybe Noem and Trump think ignoring threats to public safety in favor of Liberty™ is the perfect way to celebrate their Independence Day, but Watertown seems to be making the smarter choice. Maybe we’ll be able to come out and share hot dogs and Pepsi with a few neighbors by the Fourth of July, but let’s at least save some money and pour those fireworks funds into buying masks for first responders.


  1. leslie 2020-04-26 19:42

    Stone Mountain, the Confederate sculpture lionizing the catastrophe of the civil war southern generals, shoots off fireworks on the 4th so of course Kristi and Trump want that too at SD’s largest national memorial despite Forest Service management arguing against this lack of common sense, “or you’re FIRED!” 800,000 potential supporters who will stupidly also swallow their miracle drugs for whipping the pandemic. Bikers and rednecks! “Patriots”

  2. Debbo 2020-04-26 20:37

    Fireworks Fool won’t let things like expert recommendations, danger to onlookers, risk to firefighters, respect for a national monument and its natural environment or other such silliness stop him from having his way. Toddler wants what he wants and he wants it on July 4!

  3. grudznick 2020-04-26 20:48

    They should keep the crowds away and blast the rockets over the stone faces. We all can attend with the Zooms or the Netflix. We need the rockets, but keep the crowds at home and eating their own ice cream, not the turtle town ice cream.

  4. jerry 2020-04-26 23:29

    Good for Watertown! They clearly are looking out for their citizens. In Europe, they are finally seeing an easement in the lock down. Here are children finally being able to go outside after 6 weeks of confinement.

    While frauds like the governor, and her crooked legislature, party on like being in a frat house, we can see what we should all be doing for the good of us all. Thanks Watertown for being a leader!

  5. Eve Fisher 2020-04-27 15:40

    Our Governor won’t cancel the fireworks unless and until it’s perfectly clear that POTUS won’t attend. And even then, she’ll probably go ahead, so she can send a videotape via conference call to Himself.

  6. Robin Friday 2020-04-27 16:05

    Eve, I believe she won’t cancel the fireworks if he demands we hold them, attending or not. She is so under his thumb and I believe she actually has a quid pro quo going with him. He may decide to just put himself, sans other attendees, in front of the faces and the rockets’ red glare, and just televise it on the big screen. It’s his style, and he he dearly wants to do something very showy starring himself this Independence Day.

  7. Eve Fisher 2020-04-27 17:29

    Robin, I think you’re right. And I think there’s a good shot that he would / will attend them. This may have been a plan that Corey Lewandowski has helped her cook up – come to SD for the fireworks at Mount Rushmore and have a huge, patriotic rally! God knows they’ll get a lot of people to attend.

  8. Ray Tysdal 2020-05-01 17:42

    I am hoping for rain…a little hail for the chief would be nice.

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