Residents and visitors have the potential to see hot air balloons the week leading up to Balloon Fest and the mornings before the event, plus there will be a free, drive-through mini balloon glow scheduled in Fairview Park on Friday, August 18, at 7:30 p.m.
“The best place to see hot air balloons is at Balloon Fest in Foundation Park; however, that is not the only time we have hot air balloon events scheduled,” says Marcus Holland, executive director of the Centralia Chamber of Commerce.
Starting on Wednesday, August 16, local pilots will host crew training at 5:30 p.m. in Foundation Park. This is for sponsors, chase crews, volunteers, and interested individuals to learn about hot air balloon crewing before the weekend’s events. There may be five to ten balloons in attendance, and it is open for anyone interested in learning more about how the balloon flies.
“Over the weekend, balloon sponsors are the passengers for all flights scheduled. Before the weekend, we offer flights to committee members and local media to experience hot air ballooning for themselves!” adds Holland.
These media flights are scheduled for Thursday, August 17, at 5:30 p.m. and Friday, August 18, at 6:00 a.m. There will be ten to fifteen hot air balloons in attendance for these. The take-off locations will be determined by the wind direction and weather, with the goal to fly over Centralia.
“For all scheduled flights, we work with local media to communicate with take-off locations and weather updates. We also post to our social media. This is to keep spectators and balloon chasers informed on where to potentially see the balloons,” says Holland.
The official Balloon Fest schedule has five hot air balloon events scheduled. On Friday, all 37 hot air balloons are scheduled to take-off from Foundation Park after 5:30 p.m. Then some balloons will return for the balloon glow at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, a few balloons will take off, including the POW/MIA Veterans Freedom Flight hot air balloon to recognize and honor veterans. The remaining 35 balloons are scheduled to glow at 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, the five to ten local pilots will return to the park to close the event with a scheduled flight at 5:30 p.m.
For Saturday and Sunday mornings, all hot air balloons will fly at 6:00 a.m. from a location determined by the weather and wind direction.
In addition to the flights and glows, there will be tethered hot air balloon rides at Balloon Fest in Foundation Park on Friday and Saturday evenings from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Rides are $10 per person. Age restrictions, number of passengers, and height of ride are at the discretion of the hot air balloon pilot depending on weather and safety.
All hot air balloon events are subject to weather conditions. Surface wind speeds are preferable under 8mph with no gusts. There can be no storms, lightning, or other weather conditions in the surrounding area up to 100 miles away. Visibility must be at least three miles with no fog. The best times to fly are two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset for calmer weather.
“When hot air balloons inflate, the fabric envelope is like a big sail and any strong wind can be very damaging to the balloon or if the balloon is thrown in any direction. Weather conditions are also important with flights being 30 to 45 minutes. No one wants to be in the sky if a storm is potentially developing in the area. Safety is always our first concern,” says Holland.
Please follow @CentraliaChamber and @CentraliaBalloonFest on social media for live updates during Balloon Fest week.