Metro

‘I saw a ball of fire’ fall from sky in White Mountains forest

A black hawk helicopter dumped water onto a fire burning in the White Mountains.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
A black hawk helicopter dumped water onto a fire burning in the White Mountains.

WOODSTOCK, N.H. – It looked like a ball of fire dropping from the sky, with smaller balls of flames sprouting off it, and it lasted mere seconds. Arthur Frenette was driving home on Route 112 at about 6:40 p.m. Monday night, after a long day in construction work in Concord, when he saw the object crash onto a cliff by Kinsman Ridge.

He does not know what it was, and thought nothing of it – until he was returning home the next day to see firefighters and their trucks crowding the area, helicopters circling above them, battling what has become the worst forest fire to hit these White Mountains in decades.

“I can’t say it was a meteorite, but I know it was something,” said Frenette, who lives about six miles up the road with his girlfriend and 9-year-old grandson, and traverses the pass by the ridge daily.

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Frenette’s account has become the intrigue of this tourist community, just as the fall foliage tours have arrived for the holiday weekend, mostly because the possibility that a meteorite caused the fire – however unlikely it is – remains one of the few plausible explanations for the blaze. Scientists discount it as a possibility, but firefighters can’t say either way as they struggle to contain a fire that has tripled in size to 75 acres.

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Frenette is an unassuming man who works full-time construction and enjoys the outdoors that surround his home, including gold panning in the nearby Ammonoosuc River. He can’t say what caused the fire either way – “I’m not a scientist,” he said – but he says he knows what he saw, and he shared his account with the Globe.

“It’s just kind of an interesting thing,” he said.

He is usually home by around 6 p.m. on workdays but was running late on the hour-plus drive home from Concord, and twilight had just about hit. That’s what made it eerie. He saw the ball of flames high on the ledge to the right. He has seen falling stars before but they streak across the sky. This thing, whatever it was, was dropping straight down. He saw it for about three seconds and that was it. He feared maybe something else would drop into the road in front of his small truck.

And he made his way home. No one was home when he arrived, but when his partner and grandchild returned from a soccer game he told them what he had seen. “Oh, cool,” they said, and brushed it off.

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The next morning, he made his way by that pass and saw police officers, but thought nothing of it. He saw his boss, Peter, and told him about what he had seen. “Oh cool,” he said, and brushed it off.

By Tuesday night, when he was returning from work again, the fire had been roaring through the dry growth and timber on the cliff, and firefighters were at work.

Frenette stopped to tell a firefighter – maybe it was a warden, he said later – what he had seen, and felt a cold stare.

“They looked at me funny,” he said.

Even at work now many question him, asking him if he saw green aliens, too. Woodstock, after all, is a tourist partner with nearby Lincoln, where two people claimed to be abducted by aliens in the 1960s. Frenette gets the joke. But he saw something. And now there is a roaring fire.

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And so, on Wednesday night, with firefighters still battling the blaze, he rode his motorcycle back to the scene to tell the firefighter, “I know what I saw.”

“I don’t care what people think, I just know I saw a ball of fire,” he said. “It was spectacular.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.