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Not in Kansas anymore: San Diego County Fair wraps up ‘Oz'-themed run

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The San Diego County Fair closed out its month-long trip to the wonderful land of Oz Thursday with a “Hometown Heroes” parade and fireworks spectacular.

As of Wednesday night, 1,452,812 people had visited the event, held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and fair organizers expected tens of thousands more for Fourth of July festivities. Last year the 2018 Fair had a final attendance of 1,561,236, said public information officer Annie Pierce. The attendance record was set in 2016, with 1,609,481 guests.

On Thursday, visitors grabbed a final turkey drumstick, cotton candy ice cream sandwich or bacon-wrapped anything. Many took a final shot at arcade games and carried around oversized plush toys as trophies of their efforts. And they took advantage of their last chance to go for a whirl on the carnival rides.

“Usually when we come we look forward to going on the rides,” said Merari Cruz, 13, of Oceanside, who attended the fair with her sister and parents. “It’s so fun to come here. We look forward to the family time and the fireworks.”

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Valerie and Joseph Cleary were excited to introduce their 18-month-old son to the new tradition, and said he enjoyed watching the people and activity. As her husband Joseph pondered whether to try out the slingshot, Valerie Cleary explained that her favorite are the roller coasters, which strike the right balance between thrills and comfort.

“They’re not too rough on you,” said Cleary, 22, of Murrietta. “They’re really pleasant and enjoyable.”

The fair streamlined its carnival ride process with a new FunPass that replaces paper tickets with a digital pass, Pierce said. Accessed with a card or cellphone app, it’s pre-loaded with digital ride and game tickets that are scanned at the gate. Another new fair feature was the The Wicked Wahine speakeasy on the top of the grandstand, where visitors lined up to enter the “hidden bar that features an island vibe.”

Some popular mainstays were off limits though. The livestock barns and petting zoo were closed last week, after a 2-year-old boy, Jedidiah King Cabezuela, died from complications of an E. coli infection that he may have contracted during a visit. Four other children were diagnosed with E. coli that was possibly related to exposure at the fairgrounds.

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County health officials assisted the California Department of Food and Agriculture in collecting environmental samples at the fairgrounds, but results from those specimens were not expected to be available until after the fair closed July 4. On Thursday, all of the livestock areas were cordoned off with yellow safety tape.

Some animal displays remained open, however, including the perennial “Swifty Swine” pig races.

Latonya Kent was on her third visit for the season with her two children. During their whirlwind final visit, they saw the pig races, viewed the monster trucks and finished with the family’s favorite treat: cinnamon rolls.

For 8-year-old Rinji Sherpa, the pig races were a victorious finale to the fair visit. Sporting a pink plastic snout, he proudly explained how his pig triumphed in the competition with other piglets.

“I was like, super-excited,” he said. “I noticed everyone was cheering for me, so I knew mine won.”


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