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‘Night Glow’ hits weather snag, spectators still feel the heat

‘Night Glow’ hits weather snag, spectators still feel the heat

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‘Night Glow’ hits weather snag, spectators still feel the heat

Pilot Rhett Heartsill fires up the burner Wednesday night.

There were no balloons to be seen Wednesday night as windy weather from a nearby system prevented pilots and crews from inflating envelopes at Western Nebraska Community College at the Old West Balloon Fest. Instead, a couple hundred spectators were treated to a “candlesticking” show, where pilots light up the burners.

The event’s Executive Director Colleen Johnson said earlier in the evening she was concerned about a storm system to the west and made the call for the candlesticking demonstration just after 8 p.m.

“I’m just a little worried about that system,” she said in an interview.

High winds make inflating hot air balloons dangerous as the balloon envelopes are flammable.

Pilots turned burners on full blast, and there were sounds of delight and flinches as flames of orange and blue roared out.

Families from in and out of town pulled up chairs, blankets and waited for the show to start, often with snow cones and inflatable balloons in-hand. Many wore masks as a precaution against COVID-19. Ce Merrigan, who was accompanied by her daughter, Michaela, and grandchildren Caroline and Brigette, said she tries to never miss the balloons.

Michaela said it was a long-standing tradition to always see the hot air balloons, long before the event.

“I remember watching them take off from an empty lot when I was a kid,“ she said.

Brigette, 8, outfitted with a camera, said she was “a little disappointed” the balloons couldn’t inflate, but was happy to snap shots of tongues of flames shooting from the wicker baskets.

Thursday marks the start for the qualifier for next year’s U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships, which runs through Sunday. Old West Balloon Fest activities will continue Friday and Saturday with mass ascension events at Mitchell Airfield starting at 6:30 a.m., weather permitting.

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Danielle Prokop is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9055 or by email at

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