Balloon fest glows bright on opening night

The weather stayed dry for the Plainville Fire Company’s 29th annual Hot Air Balloon Festival, drawing in thousands of people and about 24 balloons to Norton Park Aug. 23-25.

Friday night brought clear skies, though there was a slight gust of wind, and hoards of people to experience the first night of a three-day festival.

“Even though we got the good weather, if the wind doesn’t die down, the balloons won’t fly,” said Bob Planeta, captain of the Plainville Fire Department.

Festival Chairman Will Donovan was happy with the weather, but for the time being was more concerned with parking incoming cars. Being short-staffed, Donovan had to suit up in an orange vest and funnel cars into the tight space that is Norton Park.

“With modifications made to the park, we don’t have as much left for parking,” Donovan said. “It upsets people.”

Planeta estimated (conservatively) about 10,000 people would come to the festival. At Norton Park, that doesn’t leave room for many cars, forcing a first-in, first-out parking arrangement which means unless you’re parked in the front row, you’re blocked in.

“Not a lot of people are wild about it, but we make it work,” Donovan said. “The police department does their best to fill it in and disperse the traffic as best they can. But it’s tough.”

The biggest draw for Friday’s crowd is the fireworks, a spectacular display for all ages. Also included in the night’s entertainment is live music and a small taste of hot air balloon fun with the balloon glow.

“My biggest thing is the fireworks,” Donovan said. “I love the fireworks.”

During the glow, balloon pilots and crowds of people surrounded balloons, fighting the wind, which came in small doses, to get the balloons off the ground. The baskets were tethered to the ground as not to fully launch, but get maybe 30-50 feet off the ground. Pilots would then blast the engine to light up the balloon for a luminesce contrast to the night sky. Then there were the intermittent warnings to spectators to move as some balloons might deflate and find their way to the ground.

After dusk, finding a spot on the grass would be near impossible as thousands claimed a spot to enjoy the theater of exploding lights and colors in the sky.

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