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Fire expert: Mount Rushmore fireworks display ill advised

June 12, 2020 GMT
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FILE - This March 22, 2019, file photo shows Mount Rushmore in Keystone, S.D. Organizers have scrapped plans to mandate social distancing during President Donald Trump's appearance at a July 3, 2020, Mount Rushmore fireworks display and won't limit the crowd due to coronavirus concerns, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Thursday, June 4, 2020. The Republican governor said the National Park Service is dolling out 7,500 tickets via lottery for the event, which marks the first time in a decade that fireworks will be set off at the memorial in recognition of Independence Day. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
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FILE - This March 22, 2019, file photo shows Mount Rushmore in Keystone, S.D. Organizers have scrapped plans to mandate social distancing during President Donald Trump's appearance at a July 3, 2020, Mount Rushmore fireworks display and won't limit the crowd due to coronavirus concerns, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Thursday, June 4, 2020. The Republican governor said the National Park Service is dolling out 7,500 tickets via lottery for the event, which marks the first time in a decade that fireworks will be set off at the memorial in recognition of Independence Day. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A July 3 fireworks display planned at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial would be “ill advised” because of the abnormally dry conditions and risk of summer wildfires, a fire expert said.

The event could attract as many as 7,500 people, and President Donald Trump said he plans to attend.

Bill Gabbert, the former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore and six other national parks in the region, said shooting fireworks over the extremely flammable ponderosa pine forest should not be done.

“Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable,” said Gabbert.

The Black Hills fell 30% to 50% short of moisture compared to the long-term precipitation average for the region in April and May, the Rapid City Journal reported. Long-range forecasts for June indicate that hotter and drier-than-average conditions will continue until July.

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The U.S. Drought Monitor recently labeled nearly all of southwestern South Dakota, including most of the Black Hills, as “abnormally dry.”

The fireworks display at Mount Rushmore to celebrate Independence Day has not happened since 2009, when it was ended because of fire danger after a pine beetle infestation.

The National Park Service, which manages the memorial, has determined that launching fireworks at Mount Rushmore would pose only a slight fire risk.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s communications director, Ian Fury, said the park service has taken several precautions, including performing an environmental assessment and conducting a large controlled burn within the memorial’s borders in April.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that 7,500 people are expected to attend the event, not 75,000.

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