Photographers gather in Yosemite for "once in a lifetime" firefall

Photographers gather in Yosemite for "once in a lifetime" firefall

Yosemite National Park in California is world-renowned for its dramatic landscape, sheer granite cliffs and cascading waterfalls, the most famous of which being aptly named Yosemite Falls. But this week, people visiting the park will be looking for a smaller, little-known waterfall that may briefly appear as if it were made of fire.

Of the millions of people that visit the park every year, a select few chose to travel to Yosemite around the third week of February to try and catch a glimpse of a rare event known as the ‘firefall.’

The firefall phenomenon only occurs a few days every year when light hits Horsetail Fall at just the right angle shortly before sunset, to make the waterfall appear like it is on fire.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing, but it’s really iffy becasuse you never know [if it will happen],” Reno DiTullio, a photographer visiting Yosemite, told AccuWeather.

“This unique lighting effect happens only on evenings with a clear sky when the waterfall is flowing,” the National Park Service (NPS) explained on their website. “Even some haze or minor cloudiness can greatly diminish or eliminate the effect.”

In 2019, the firefall put on an incredible display for those in the park as all of the ingredients came together perfectly.

This year, the setting sun is expected to be at the best angle for the firefall between Friday, Feb. 21 and Sunday, Feb. 23. However, visitors in the right place at the right time may end up missing the show due to the lack of one key ingredient: water.

“The problem is you can’t have a firefall without a spark or in this case the water, and it just hasn’t rained or snowed enough so far this year here in Yosemite,” AccuWeather News Reporter Jonathan Petramala said.

As of Friday, Feb. 14, Horsetail Fall was dry following a stretch of dry weather across the region, according to the NPS.

With no rain or snow in the forecast between through Feb. 23, people in the park may end up missing the show due to a lack of water.


Although Horsetail Fall may not be flowing, there is still a silver lining to the dry conditions.

Instead of the sun illuminating the waterfall to make it look like lava flowing off a mountain, it will instead transform the eastern edge of El Capitan to a colorful cliffside right around sunset.

The firefall that has become a sensation to photographers in recent years is the second such event to take on this name in Yosemite’s history.

“Although entirely natural, the phenonemon is reminiscent of the human-caused Firefall that historically occurred from Glacier Point,” the NPS said.

Every afternoon, a fire would be lit atop Glacier Point that would eventually burn down to a large pile of coals. Around 9 p.m., after the sun had set, these glowing red ashes would be pushed off the cliffside, cascading thousands of feet into the valley below, resulting in an incredibly beautiful firefall for visitors in the park.

This man-made firefall took place on-and-off between 1872 and 1968, but was discontinued in 1968 as it was deemed to be an unnatural spectacle by the director of the National Park Service. Additionally, the large crowds that would gather on a nightly basis would cause traffic jams in the park before trampling through and damaging meadows to watch the light show from a unique perspective.

With the first firefall a thing of the past, photographers and visitors in Yosemite can only look on to the road ahead.

“Pictures from the past are all anyone will have of the famous firefall until at least next year,” Petramala said.

Keep checking back on and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.

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