Colorful balloon launch awes hundreds of viewers

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— Hundreds of people filled a usually empty meadow early Saturday morning to watch 47 crews inflate their giant balloons for the 20th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.
The crews anxiously awaited the signal to start inflating and spouts of fire could be seen erupting throughout the meadow.
Suddenly, half-filled, colorful balloons rose from the ground.
"It's so pretty," 10-year-old Jessica Butler exclaimed as she watched the spectacle. " I love all the colors."
Torches, used to fill the balloons with hot air, roared into life when the signal was given to start inflating, drowning out the loud speakers.
"I like the fire things, they fill the balloons up and they are loud," said 6-year-old Tyler Robins.
Inflation began at 6:40 a.m. Saturday, but that didn't deter a big crowd from waking up early to watch. The parking lot filled quickly and hundreds of cars lined the meadow as people hurriedly picked a spot on the grass.
The event, sponsored by Community First National Bank, the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., was a success, spectators said.
"This is a really neat thing for families," said Vicki Johner. "It's really different. I certainly haven't seen anything like it."
The crowd became quieter as the balloons took off in the air. The sky filled with colorful bubbles as children waved and pointed to their favorite balloon.
"I like the purple lightening one the best" said Jeff Jones, pointing to a balloon named "Indian Paintbrush," before changing his mind. "Actually, it's too hard to pick a favorite."
"I think I will have to come back for this next year," said Betsy Campbell. "This is so unique, but it looks so beautiful with the backdrop of the Rockies."

Joleen Fuller is an intern for the Steamboat Pilot/Steamboat Today newspapers.

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