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Balloon festival team expands
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
This week Randall Tomaras, executive director of the Sequim Balloon Festival, introduced to Sequim and to his planning committee two new members of the festival management team.
Vic and Mandy Johnson have been brought on board as “balloonmeisters” to provide the logistics and the materiel for the ballooning portion of the festival.
That includes much more than simply securing balloons. As Mandy noted, it means first and foremost they will be working to ensure the safety of the participating balloonists and the festival audience, as well as the people, crops and animals of the Sequim area.
The two said over the course of the next year they will spend a great deal of time on the peninsula scouting sites for take-offs, landings and for potential trouble spots. Their work will include conducting a number of test flights.
Vic said the two also will be working with the local police and fire crews to provide more information on discerning the difference between a true emergency and business as usual. He said local emergency services often get calls when balloon pilots nearing the ground fire up the burner, but he said that is ordinarily just a part of braking. Having the gondola tip over when it reaches earth also is often par for the course, he said.
Up in the air
The two are old hands at ballooning.
Vic started his flying career while still in high school and has been flying hot air balloons — and more recently gas balloons — since. In his 31 years in ballooning he has flown in most states in the U.S., and also once flew over the top of Mount Rainier.
Mandy, a pilot since 1993, said being named “Flight Instructor of the Year” by the Federal Aviation Administration was a highlight of her career. She is also a skilled balloon repairman and accountable manager for the FAA repair station Go Lightly. In addition to Go Lightly, the two are co-owners of Wine Country Balloon Tour, which is based in Prosser.
Tomaras says the Sequim Balloon Festival, planned for early September 2012, could bring more than 3,500 visitors to Sequim in to spend money and enjoy the sight of balloons in flight and balloons aglow.
Bret Wirta, owner of Wirta Hospitality Worldwide, whose properties include Sequim’s Holiday Inn Express and the Quality Inn, will handle the business end of the Sequim Balloon Festival.
Tomaras also has an agreement with Fred and Loretta Grant, who own 40 acres of farmland just across East Washington Street from the Holiday Inn Express. They’ve agreed to allow the use of the land as the staging site for a number of the ballooning events, including the popular “balloon glow” events. Balloon glows are beautiful, Tomaras said, explaining the balloons remain tied to the ground but are lit from within by propane flames.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.