Despite clouds, rain, Columbia fairgoers celebrate summer


Joan Blanchard drove from Sharon, Pa., to sell her wooden crafts at the Columbia City Fair this weekend. But as she huddled under a rain tent yesterday, she looked into the gray sky and wondered whether the trip was worth her trouble.

"We're going to die if this rain keeps up. This is not making me happy," Ms. Blanchard said. "It was worth it last year. If it stops raining and stays cool, people will come out."

Held at the Kittamaqundi Lakefront, the fair began Friday and will continue through 5 p.m. today. It includes amusement park-style rides, singing and dancing groups, and commercial exhibits. Ethnic foods are also for sale.

Organizers expected about 50,000 people to attend the fair, Columbia's annual celebration marking the beginning of summer and the city's 24th birthday.

One serious mishap was reported yesterday when a fire at a hamburger stand burned four Columbia men. Authorities blamed the fire on liquid propane vapors that seeped from a container under a portable grill and ignited.

The fire occurred just after noon at a hamburger stand operated by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity outside the Columbia Cities Building at 10275 Little Patuxent Parkway, said Al Ward, deputy chief state fire marshal.

Richard Alexander, 43, was flown by state police helicopter to the Washington Hospital Center for treatment of second-degree burns to his face, mouth and nose.

The others -- Edward Harris, 52, Sherman Howell, 47, and an unidentified 72-year-old -- were released after treatment for first-degree burns at Howard County General Hospital.

The light rain gave way to a period of sunshine by early afternoon, but the clouds quickly returned, and skies remained overcast through much of the day.

When it began to sprinkle in midmorning, Robert Kramer, a local artist who was selling ink sketches and watercolor paintings, hastily covered his artwork with a clear plastic tarp. "That's the trouble with prints and watercolors. They don't do well with rain," said Mr. Kramer, 61.

His son, Scott Kramer, 35, came along to help sell his father's wares and to see neighbors, he said. "Over the course of the weekend, we'll see everyone we know. It's just non-stop. There are some people that you only see at the fair."

Veronica Anderson, who has lived in Columbia for 19 years, said she comes to the fair every year.

"The fair never changes. It's a family event. . . . It's a shame it's raining. Yesterday, it was packed," she said.

The light rain and drizzle at noon didn't stop Lovanne Packard's daughters, ages 1 and 4, from having a great time.

"They started out on the rides and worked their way through. They'll stay out here in the pouring rain all day," said Mrs. Packard, 32.

To stay dry, families with small children ducked into the Children's Corner, the fair's newest attraction.

There, children ages 3 to 10 could color pictures and make crafts under large canopies. As part of the fair's theme this year -- "Put on a Happy Face" -- the children made happy-face puppets of brown paper bags, yarn and felt.

The Children's Corner was set up because children often get tired with all the sights, sounds and tastes crammed into one weekend, said Linda Elengold, promotions manager for Columbia Birthday Celebration Inc., which staged the 15th annual fair.

"The fair has long been a family event. We felt this was something free that small children can do . . . an area where the kids could get their hands on something and do something creative," Mrs. Elengold said.

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