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Fireworks over Black Hills Forest Still Ill-Advised; Noem Won’t Tell Us Fire-Prevention Decision Matrix

Back in December, Black Hills resident and wildfire expert Bill Gabbert called shooting off tons of fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest in July “literally insane.”

With Donald Trump coming July 3 to hold Kristi Noem’s hand beneath a booming canopy of fireworks shot off over the ponderosa pine forest around Mount Rushmore, Gabbert maintains that shooting fireworks over Mount Rushmore is a bad idea:

“Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable,” said Gabbert. “Shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period.”

In April and May of 2020, the Black Hills fell 30% to 50% short of moisture compared to the long-term precipitation average for the region. Long range forecasts for June indicate that hotter and drier-than-average conditions will continue until July. On June 4, the U.S. Drought Monitor labeled nearly all of southwestern South Dakota, including most of the Black Hills, as “abnormally dry” [Nick Lowrey, “Fire Expert: Mount Rushmore Fireworks Show ‘Ill-Advised’ Due to Dry Conditions and High Fire Risk,” South Dakota News Watch, 2020.06.10].

The UNL Drought Monitor issued this week, based on data up to June 9, continues to list most of the Black Hills as D0, Abnormally Dry.

U.S. Drought Monitor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, issued 2020.06.11.
U.S. Drought Monitor, South Dakota drought conditions, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, issued 2020.06.11.

Fireworks pose such a high risk to the Black Hills that South Dakota law generally prohibits the sale or use of fireworks within the Black Hills Forest Fire Protection District (roughly, the great green land bounded by I-90, Highway 79, and the Cheyenne River).

The Noem Administration and National Park Service promise they have safety protocols in place… but the feds says those protocols are a state secret:

In response to questions from South Dakota News Watch about the fire risk, Gov. Kristi Noem’s communications director Ian Fury said the park service has taken several precautions, including performing an environmental assessment, conducting a large controlled burn within the memorial’s borders in April and creating a safety “Go/ No-Go” checklist that would be used to determine whether the risk posed by the fireworks is too high to continue the event as planned.

“The Go/No-Go checklist for the event was developed in collaboration with several state, local, and federal agencies. This checklist is based primarily on forecasted and current weather and fuels conditions that are used to predict fire behavior as well as the availability of fire suppression resources,” Fury said in an emailed statement.

What the park service’s Go/No Go checklist covers, and under what conditions the fireworks could be cancelled, have not been released to the public. In response to a request from News Watch for details, Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief interpretation and education officer for Mount Rushmore, said National Park Service law enforcement officials have decided not to release the criteria for security reasons [Lowrey, 2020.06.10].

Park Service, Governor Noem, please explain to the residents of the Black Hills how weather and ground moisture data imperil security. Must the Drought Monitor and National Weather Service go on blackout the week before July 3?

If there really is any Go/No Go checklist in place, there’s no way Trump or Noem will let us see it to see if they actually obey it. Noem has already thrown coronavirus precautions to the wind for the July 3 event; there’s no way she’s going to let any fussbudgeting fire experts with all their cursed science and math stop her from giving Donald exactly what he wants and trying to get what she wants at their big forest fireworks make-out session.


  1. grudznick 2020-06-14 12:38

    Black Hills resident, wildfire expert, and fireworks aficionado grudznick says “bully” to this news. We don’t need anti-American greenies and general antis to be cluttering up the woods. If you are afraid of fire, loud noises, or the covid bugs then stay the hell away from Rushmore, whine from home. And you can take Mr. Trump with you. That is fine with grudznick too.

  2. mike from iowa 2020-06-14 12:51

    Something named Grudzilla is seriously confused as to which wingnuts are taking away constitutional rights of the people they are allegedly elected to serve.
    Then, it tosses out names at liberals, turns around and whines about out of state name callers usurping his name caller chops. Just like drumpf.

  3. grudznick 2020-06-14 14:58

    A shame it is, Mr. Mike, that you are from Iowa and will not be able to travel with more of your goats to the Great State of South Dakota to enjoy our glorious fireworks.

  4. John 2020-06-14 15:51

    Blame the fireworks nonsense where it’s re-emergence came from – the SD tourism industrial complex in Keystone, Hill & Rapid Cites, & Pierre. Ah, there is nothing like the fireworks show in a raging forest fire.

    The misnamed Black Hills Multiple Users (loggers) are having an ethical lapse with their silence.

    It is likely insane having a fireworks show over a dry pine forest. Noem is the decider. But Noem’s track record of scant original thought leads one to finger the tourism mafia with advancing this insanity.

  5. mike from iowa 2020-06-14 16:05

    If there is a fire, Noem and drumpf can always claim it as an act of gawd or Antifa done it

  6. jerry 2020-06-14 16:09

    This forest fire danger proves beyond a doubt that white folks should never be in charge of forestry lands or national parks. They simply are incapable of understanding the risks.

  7. Donald Pay 2020-06-14 16:26

    Grudz’ first post must be the result of a hangover from breakfast. He’s a bit confused, and falling back on well-worn tropes, rather than fact, but I appreciate the fact that he’s willing to kick Trump, the out-of-state lunatic, out of the fireworks “celebration.” My position is slightly different.

    “Greenies” had nothing to do with the opposition to fireworks at Mount Rushmore. If Grudz is free of his hangover now, he will recall that the timber industry, the tourist industry, local Hills residents, local governments and the Forest Service led the opposition. If environmental groups weighed in on the matter, it was with some tepid agreement that something that would lead to uncontrolled wildfire was not in the best interests of the forests.

    Let me fun down what I remember of the arguments made regarding the Mt. Rushmore fireworks. First, the tourist industry had a concern with the fireworks actually driving out tourists. July 4th holiday is peak of the tourist season. Everything is already booked full. The fireworks adds nothing to the bottom line. In fact, as was pretty clear in some of the years in the 1980s and 90s, when fire breaks out, tourists leave, and don’t return. That was a risk the tourist industry didn’t want to take.

    Second, the timber industry was always protective of their economic interest in the public’s timber resource. They didn’t want to run the risk of having their investments go up in smoke.

    Third, local residents with houses on nearby private land within the Hills were understandably concerned about a fire resulting from any source, but fireworks seemed are particularly frivolous risk.

    Because all these interests were aligned against fireworks and because local fire districts were also against fireworks for obvious reasons, all local governments banned fireworks in the Hills, and they lobbied to have the Mt. Rushmore fireworks shows end.

    Environmental groups did not have a united position on this matter. Some folks, including me, hoped the fireworks would set off badly needed fires in an overgrown pine forest. Others thought the fires could crown and damage some old growth and mature stands in the area, and that would be worse. As a result of this split in the movement, there was no united environmental position.

    As a result, mostly of the economic and safety arguments of locals , the Park Service realized that local sentiment about the fireworks at Mt. Rushmore had changed from support to opposition, and decided to end the shows.

    My position on this is that it would be great if Donald Trump, like the evil monster he is, was consumed in a fire of his own making. Burn, baby, burn!

  8. Donald Pay 2020-06-14 16:46

    Yup, Cory, the reason for hiding the information is b.s. This show is going to go on no matter what the danger to the public is. Can you think what kind of a hissy fit Dear Leader would put on if he can’t get his photo-op out of this? Hey, if you are endangered by a fire caused by Trump’s ego, that’s just the price you pay for electing this mentally ill monster.

  9. Bucko Bear 2020-06-14 17:07

    Ironic isn’t it that the fire retardant/slurry used is orange ……..

  10. Debbo 2020-06-14 18:13

    Cory’s final paragraph aptly summarizes what’s going on. Kruel Kristi is going to have her show for Disabled Donny, massive wildfire be damned. Those two deserve each other, but South Dakota and the USA don’t.

  11. Scott 2020-06-14 18:38

    I would rather see this $350,000 redistributed to small towns across South Dakota so that most South Dakotans actually have a chance to see live fireworks. I’d guess the security costs for this event will easy exceed $250,000 for the state.

    So if you distributed that $600,000 to cities say between 250 and 5,000 in population, that would be around 200 cites. Each city could be given $3,000 for a nice little city fireworks display. That would be something that would bring communities together.

    But instead this will be a political show and less than 1% of South Dakotan’s will see the Rushmore show live.

  12. Caleb 2020-06-14 18:48

    Noem and Trump want their propaganda event. I wonder what they would say of countries like North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, etc throwing such an event.

  13. grudznick 2020-06-14 19:42

    Mr. Pay is right that the greenies did like the burning of the woods, and still do. But he is wrong that the greenies weren’t a big piece of why, against this American Indian’s rules, the greenies contributed to why the world has to shape up or shoot people more.

    Do not mess with Mr. Baker, who spoke #4Science then, and now the other scientists speak #4Science now.

    Shoot, blast, and burn;
    avoid the covids at every turn.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-06-14 19:59

    We are endangering trees, tourists, property, and firefighters for mere political staging and ego. But at least this ego trip prompted some sensible controlled burns before the event.

  15. grudznick 2020-06-14 20:05

    You put it more concisely than Mr. Pay, Mr. H, and those are true points. Let us keep them in mind as we blast away, over Lake Madison or the Aberdeen Lake or the fields of Lake Andes and everywhere.

    The environmental worries are all the same, the fire danger is always there, the whining is only greater when there is the Mr. Trump fellow maybe there.

    So, it is about whining, and Mr. Trump, not about Mr. Pay’s environmental concerns. Otherwise, people would be whining bloody murder to shut down all fireworks.

    grudznick wins the debates. I have declared it.

  16. mike from iowa 2020-06-15 07:30

    Nice video, sort of, Mr. Claussen Sr. Just one question, was the fire pixelated to protect it’s identity?

  17. Donald Pay 2020-06-15 11:46

    Scott comes up with a better plan: smaller, local shows. I like it, just maybe not until COVID is under control.

    My favorite plan as a kid would have been to give me enough money to buy a bunch of Gorillas so I could drop them under the South Minnesota Avenue bridge over the Sioux River so that the explosion would displace a chunk of water and echo under the bridge.

  18. Francis Schaffer 2020-06-15 13:02

    Has anyone heard if all attendees will have to test negative for COVID – 19 and quarantine for 2 weeks prior to attending? Seems like that will be on the GO/NO GO checklist, or am I asking for too much logic and consistency.

  19. Cathy 2020-06-15 13:07

    The go/no go checklist:

    Go if Trump shows up. No go if he stiffs her.

  20. grudznick 2020-06-15 18:10

    if they no-go (like Joe Lowe), will they redistribute the big bangs to some of us who want to shoot them legally over private property?

  21. mike from iowa 2020-06-15 18:32

    According to KOTA…. While the state continues to be impacted by COVID-19, Noem says there will not be social distancing rules during the celebration.

    “We did have a plan originally of social distancing; we do not anticipate doing any social distancing activities during the celebration,” Noem said.

    There will be security screening.

  22. Loren 2020-06-15 18:55

    No “social distancing during the celebration” because everyone knows the COVID-19 does not work on holidays. ;-)

  23. leslie 2020-06-16 16:11

    Other sneaky pro billionaire/ultra conservative/fossilfuels “fooling” of us appears from quiet commandeering of Geo Mason Univ (and now Brown Univ) by hidden subversive misogynistic games like Native American and Central/South American culture robbing (Providence Pictures) PBS broadcasting identifying drop dead gorgeous native women as George Mason students, but no mention of Koch Bros control. Yuk

  24. leslie 2020-06-16 18:19

    Republican opportunism and obstruction is no different than Russia’s Putin using Olympics distraction to invade Crimea in Ukraine in 2014, and just as China used the pandemic to distract from its effort to alter India’s souther Himalayan border and kill dozens of Indian border patrol yesterday. And North Korea’s explosive at on the S. Korean DMZ meeting building. Kim fires missles while S. Korea floats tiny balloons. Trumpie boyfriends, all, authoritarians he emulates. What a pig:(

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