For the fifth year, balloons take flight in Shawnee. The Fire Lake Fireflight Balloon Fest kicks off Friday, August 12. Families can enjoy the hot air balloon festival until Saturday evening.
“It was kind of a vision for tribal leaders to provide a community-friendly, family-friendly event that everyone can just hang out and enjoy,” said balloon committee member Kelley Francen.
“This festival is amazing, the community involvement, the way it’s run, the whole thing,” said Chris Sabia, the Balloon Meister of the Fire Lake Fireflight Balloon Fest.
Members of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation wanted to hold a free event for Oklahomans.
Francen said they were inspired to organize a hot air balloon festival after visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico during the Balloon Fiesta.
The Fireflight Balloon Fest welcomes 25 balloons from across the country this weekend.
“Balloons light up everyone’s eyes and put a big smile on everyone’s face, no matter how old you are, that’s really what’s great,” the Balloon Meister said for the event.
“The best part is that the balloon pilots love to invite the kids onto the field with them so the kids can really get up close to the balloons,” Francen said.
Veteran pilot Steve Libel is no stranger to the hot air balloon community, traveling the world with his Jayhawk balloon.
“Albuquerque is one of the best places, we were in Saint-Jean-sur Richelieu in Canada, just south of Montreal and it was a beautiful country to fly,” said the balloon pilot.
But right now, he’s in Shawnee doing hot air balloon rides with the other festival pilots.
“The people who go for a ride, the fun they get from it and the reactions they get from it,” Libel said.
People can also enjoy carnival rides and an indoor exhibit. The festival will end on Saturday evening with live music and a balloon glow.
“Last year, our event was recognized as the Outstanding Event by Oklahoma’s tourism industry, so we’re very proud of that,” Francen said.
After 38 years and over 1,000 hours in the air, Steve is retiring this year.
A bittersweet feeling as he soars over Shawnee Oklahoma one last time.
“We’ve made friends all over the United States and I’m just… gonna miss them,” Libel said.