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Balloon festival lifts off in Santa Paula

Posted: July 27, 2013 12:30 p.m.
Updated: July 27, 2013 12:30 p.m.

The crew of Panda "Air" Balloon Flights hit the burners to keep the envelope filled with hot air as they join some-30 crews to display their balloon at the sixth Annual Citrus Classic Balloon Festival held in Santa Paula on Saturday. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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Resting on its side as a fan pumps air into its body, the balloon takes shape.

A pilot climbs into the sideways basket and ignites the burner. Flames lick the air and the balloon begins to right itself, as several glove-clad helpers pull the ropes that connect the vinyl to the basket.

A team of people spend several minutes tugging the balloon into shape and now the balloon looks gratifyingly recognizable: like an upside-down rain drop.

This process could be seen repeated dozens of times in the early hours of Saturday morning at the sixth annual Citrus Classic Balloon Festival in Santa Paula.

The annual festival features an average of 30 hot air balloons and attracts 10,000 to 12,000 people over the course of its weekend run, according to Carla Edwards, the event’s organizer and founder.

“We usually have three, sometimes four, special shapes,” Edwards said.

“This year we have a panda head, a lemon shape and ‘Pencil boy,’” she said, referring to a balloon in the shape of a pencil with arms.

The festival began Friday afternoon and runs through Sunday morning.

Unfortunately, due to weather conditions, the balloons were not able to lift off Saturday.

“We have to abide by flight regulations,” said Peggy Watson Meinke, hot air balloon pilot and event coordinator for the volunteers. “We have to have three miles of visibility and stay well below the cloud layer.”

However, they were still inflated for viewing and four of the balloons offered tethered balloon rides that reached 50 feet in altitude.

Though the balloons are the stars of the annual event, they are not the only attraction at the festival, Edwards said.

“We’ve also added a car show, kids attractions, a wine and craft beer dinner and tomorrow we have a motorcycle run,” Edwards said Saturday.

Edwards said the most popular part of the festival is the “evening balloon glow.”

“That’s when, with the backdrop of the mountains and the sunset, all the balloons inflate and you can see them glowing,” she said.

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