Multiple North Coast residents from Valley Ford to Santa Rosa and Fort Bragg reported seeing what they described as a meteor streaking northwest across the sky toward the ocean on Saturday afternoon.
Emergency dispatchers began receiving calls just before 1 p.m., said Sgt. Cecile Focha, spokeswoman for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. The initial report was of an airplane crash, which turned out to be unfounded. Units from Valley Ford Fire, Bodega Bay Fire and Gold Ridge Fire and the Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter, Henry 1, were dispatched to an area 4 miles west of Valley Ford, but found no evidence of a meteor or other debris.
“Everyone responded as if it was a plane crash,” Focha said. “There was no evidence of where the object landed. Something got lobbed at the earth.”
Witnesses described seeing a glowing fireball streaking across the sky for about 10 seconds. Some said it burned bright white. Others said it changed color from red to blue to green.
“It was amazing,” said Mark Morelli of Santa Rosa, who saw it while driving down Guerneville Road. “The tip was bright green and it had a really long tail.”
Barbara and Nick Makris were walking on their ranch just north of Bodega Bay when they saw the light streak northwest out over the Pacific.
“It looked like a tadpole,” Barbra Makris said. “We watched it for about 10 seconds, then it extinguished. It was pretty exciting.”
Firefighters combed grassy fields and farms in the rolling hills near Valley Ford searching for any debris that may have sparked a blaze, Valley Ford Fire Chief Matt Epstein said.
“We never did find anything that came in contact with the earth,” he said. “Once we realized it was not a crash, our biggest concern was if anything hit a structure or started a fire.”
Many who reported seeing the object were on or near the coast, although it was observed at least as far inland as Rohnert Park. Jason Selvage was watching a youth baseball game in Rohnert Park when he saw the light in the sky.
“It looked like a firework exploding,” he said. “It was really cool to see.”
While most witnesses said they saw the object in the afternoon, others reported seeing a bright light in the sky just before dawn. The timing corresponded with a NASA satellite launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County at 6:22 a.m.
Alan Buis, a spokesman with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said the morning launch would have been visible on the North Coast, but added that the afternoon event likely is unrelated.
“The launch was visible over a wide swath of coastal California,” he said.
Buis said meteor sightings are not uncommon.
No new events had been posted by Saturday evening on the website of the American Meteor Society, an organization of amateur and professional meteor scientists. The group says it receives daily reports about fireballs in the sky. The organization received 10 reports of a fireball over California last week.
You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MattBrownPD.