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Colorado Springs Labor Day hot air balloon festival off to a perfect start

September 2, 2017 Updated: September 2, 2017 at 9:52 pm
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photo - Spectators watch as balloons float over Prospect Lake Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, during the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off in Memorial Park. The balloon festival runs through Monday morning. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Spectators watch as balloons float over Prospect Lake Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, during the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off in Memorial Park. The balloon festival runs through Monday morning. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

On a still, clear morning, thousands of spectators were treated to a made-to-order start to the three-day Labor Day Lift Off - nearly 70 hot air balloons took off Saturday from Memorial Park and floated south over Colorado Springs.

"It was perfect hot air balloon weather," said organizer Scott Appelman.

Spectators watched balloons shaped like a football, a rocket ship, a soccer ball and cartoon characters go up, up and away over and over again. A big crowd formed around a balloon depicting the nursery rhyme "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" before it took off.

Micah Marshall, 7, wanted to see a 'Star Wars'-themed balloon but didn't find one. Nonetheless, he was happy that he got up early for the event.

"There's a lot of fun balloons," he said.

Thanks to the calm weather, the Lift Off went without a hitch, organizers said. The first balloon floated in the air about 7 a.m., and the last one took off an hour later. Only one balloon wasn't able to launch because of a tear, Appelman said.

The balloons traveled several miles south to a landing area.

"I really like Colorado Springs and the panoramic view," said Hank Hamiston, pilot of Flamebuoyant 2. "The people here are really supportive. It's always good to come here."

This year, 66 hot air balloons from 12 states - including Colorado, Utah, Texas, New Mexico, California and Arizona - were scheduled to take off throughout the weekend.

Laura Nunez and her three young sons have been attending the Lift Off for the past few years and the boys couldn't stop talking about the event all week, their mother said.

They woke up at 4 a.m. to get to the liftoff in time. Once they arrived, they went around collecting business cards from the pilots and their team members. One of the boys, 5-year-old Noah, called the balloons a "parachute."

The free event boasts more than just hot air balloons. This year, it also features a donut-eating contest, a chainsaw carving demonstration, live music, food and a skydiving demonstration by the Air Force Academy Wings of Blue parachute team.

In the evening, the balloon crews set up again in Memorial Park for the traditional Balloon Glow, igniting twinkle burns - fast on and off burns that light up the balloons against the night sky. For an hour, the balloon operators flickered their flames while on the ground. Many of the balloon operators allowed people to stand in the basket while they switched on the gas.

"We had a great flight this morning and we're now exhilarated to be here at the Balloon Glow," said Sue Jones, part of the Eos balloon team.

Weather permitting, the balloons will take off again 7 a.m. Sunday and Monday.

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