Yosemite Firefall

A History and A Memory

The End of a Tradition

In 1968 the Park Service Director decided that the Firefall tradition should come to an end. He reasoned that since it was just a man-made attraction, and one which caused a great deal of congestion in the park, as well as damage to the meadows from the trampling of onlookers, that it wasn't worth continuing. He went as far as to point out that it caused the unnatural and unnecessary removal of red-fir bark from the park grounds. Henry Berrey, who was in charge of public relations for the park at the time, described the last Firefall in this press release:
The Firefall, a fancy of James McCauley's that caught on, and was popular for almost a hundred years, died Thursday, January 25, 1968 in a blazing farewell.

It was a dandy Firefall, fat and long and it ended with an exceptionally brilliant spurt, the embers lighting the cliff as they floated slowly downward...

There weren't many people around to watch. Maybe fifty. Hardly any congestion at all.
In my research of the Firefall, I was struck by how differently writers view the event. The accounts vary from the sentimental to the cynical. We're all grown up now, and such things as pushing fire over a cliff are considered foolish and irresponsible. But for those who experienced the Firefall in person on one of those dark summer evenings: I think they will have changed because of it, and will always look back on it with a sense of nostalgia and wonder.

A pale scar remains to this day, where the fire burned away the cliff's lichen. Someday that scar will heal, and after that, all those who remember the Firefall will also pass, and this colorful and oddly magical tradition will remain only in the pages of history.

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