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Fire in the sky

Grace Vinyard, 14, captured this image that likely showed debris from a Space X rocket burning up in the atmosphere Thursday. Submitted photo.
Rogue Valley residents report seeing bright light show Thursday night that looked like a meteor, but was likely debris from a SpaceX rocket

Tenasi Rama Lazar thought the commotion outside his home at about 9 p.m. Thursday stemmed from something else at first. A coyote, maybe. Something on the ground, not a parade of lights on a slow tear through the night sky.

The Rogue Valley resident had been inside while his partner was outside, dealing with the family’s chickens and ducks on their farm near Ashland.

“She came running and was like, ‘Oh, my god, come out here,’” Lazar said Friday when reached by phone.

Lazar went outside and got his first view of what caught the attention of many across the Pacific Northwest: a glittering, fiery trail of debris moving slowly across the sky. The National Weather Service office out of Seattle said that, while not confirmed, the spectacle was likely due to Space X’s Falcon 9 second stage rocket “that did not successfully have a deorbit burn,” the agency wrote on its Twitter account.

“Based on the observed video, this looks more likely than a bolide meteor or similar object as they would be moving far faster on impact with our atmosphere,” the Tweet said.

The rocket had recently delivered multiple satellites into orbit, according to the Associated Press. An email to SpaceX was not immediately returned Friday.

Lazar estimated the light show he saw was three to four times the size of a passenger airplane. It resulted in a temporary silence at his farm, frog croaks and insect chirps returning only after the lights had disappeared, he said.

“It was definitely crazy. And the fact that it was so silent. Silent and slow and pulsing,” Lazar said.

Jacksonville resident Jeff Vinyard and his 14-year-old daughter, Grace, had been returning from Grace’s gymnastics practice when they saw the spectacle, described by Grace as “a bunch of giant sparkly chunks falling from the sky.”

“It was pretty high up in the air,” Grace said. “Then my dad was like, ‘Take a picture, take a picture.’”

She did, snapping stills and video. There was ample time to do so. At first, it looked like an airplane with its landing lights on.

“It was probably visible between 30 and 45 seconds,” Vinyard said.

The spectacle prompted many other people in Washington and Oregon to whip out their smartphones, point and start recording. A slew of videos and images hit social media. One video, taken from Cannon Beach, showed the debris as it passed in front of the moon. Another view captured in southwest Portland showed the glittering trail passing over a silhouettes of trees.

The incident prompted multiple local 911 calls, about two dozen within a 15-minute period, Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon administrative assistant Jeff McCamish estimated.

“People all over the valley saw it and called 911 thinking it was a plane crash,” said Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Battalion Chief Jeff Bancroft.

Fire District 3 responded to a report of a smoldering pile in a field – not related to the falling debris — but that required some convincing, Bancroft said.

Video by Grace Vinyard

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanpfeil.