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    Posted April 27, 2014 by
    immokalee, Florida
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Photo essays: Your stories in pictures

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    2014 "Balloons Over Paradise"


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     PHOTOBOB photographed hot air balloons at the Balloons Over Paradise festival in Immokalee, Florida, on April 26. He photographed the crew setting up the event early in the morning. 'Just the whole process of seeing the balloons go from van to inflated to flying off was amazing,’ he said.
    - Jareen, CNN iReport producer

    Hot air balloons are fun to watch as they float across the sky, but there is a lot of work that goes into getting these majestic air ships off the ground. I saw this first hand at the third annual “Balloons over Paradise” in Immokalee, Florida on April 26th and 27th, 2014. The festival is sponsored by the Seminole Casino and included the balloon flights as well as a host of other activities.
    For this festival the process begins for some even before the sun rises. Once on site the crew unloads the basket the hook up the propane. The balloon itself is packed in a bag and must be carefully spread out (Photo 1). At first the basket is set on its side and attached to the balloon. Fans are used to fill the sheath of the balloon with air (Photo 2) .A couple members of the crew hold the opening of the balloon wide until the balloon takes shape .
    Propane is then used to heat the air and the balloon quickly rises (Photo 3). It only takes a few quick bursts of flame to heat the air. Even from fifteen or twenty feet away the heat is palpable. In the dark the flames are readily visible and light the balloons from within. At last the balloon is ready for flight (Photo 4).
    Not all the balloons will take flight this day, though. A few of the bigger, more elaborate balloons stay tethered to the ground. They are here just for visitors’ enjoyment. A couple more are those of major sponsors and another is to be used for “tethered rides”. This is where visitors take a quick ride straight up and back down.
    On some of the tethered balloons a crew member keeps these tethered balloons upright by holding a rope attached to the top of the balloon. This person moves making sure the balloon does not lean with the wind (Photo 5).
    For those that do take off, they rise one or two at a time in a haphazard progression, following the lead balloon (Photo 6 and 7). That first balloon is known as the hare and the remaining ships are the hounds. The hare will way out a large fabric ‘X’ and send the hounds the coordinates via radio. The hounds will then try to drop a marker as close to the center of the ‘X’ as possible hoping to win a cash prize. No easy feat as the balloons are subject to the whims of the wind and are not as easily maneuvered as a car. Visitors get to watch as the balloons fill the air.
    The balloons will then land, be deflated and packed back up. Many of them return to do it all over again.

    Story and photos by Robert Wilder Jr
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