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A ‘1-in-4-trillion’ chance: Rancher says a fireball hit his home

Videos and neighbors back up the meteor hypothesis, but NASA has something else to say on the subject

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A northern California home was destroyed by what some are saying was a meteor on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. NASA deems that unlikely.

A northern California home was destroyed by what some are saying was a meteor on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. NASA officials are skeptical of the claim.

Cindy Blanchard via GoFundMe.com

A northern California rancher was startled by a loud bang outside of his home on Friday, Nov. 4, where videos were captured and neighbors described seeing a “flaming ball” in the night sky, as reported by KCRA.

Local ranch owner Dustin Procita believes the object, later described as a “flaming basketball,” hit his home just after he heard the bang, but said he didn’t see anything until he was shown videos after.

“I started to smell smoke and I went onto my porch and it was completely engulfed in flames,” he told KCRA. “They said it was a meteor.”

It was the house where Procita and his wife, Jeanette, lived with two dogs. One of the dogs, Tug, died in the burning building, according to the GoFundMe created by family and friends. Almost $12,000 has been raised, as of Nov. 8, to help the couple.

Penn Valley firefighters responded with Cal Fire and fought the fire for several hours.

Josh Miller, captain of the Penn Valley Fire Department, said his crew arrived at the scene after receiving the call around 7:30 p.m. on Friday, he told KCRA.

Neighbors and witnesses of the light in the sky arrived at the home, too.

“Everyone I talked to said it was a flaming ball falling from the sky and landed in that general area,” Miller said.

Clayton Thomas, another captain at the Penn Valley Fire Department, told the Los Angeles Times, “it’s very, very rare, but not impossible” for meteors to hit structures.

He hasn’t seen one in his 25 years working as a firefighter, he said.

“They said it’s a 1-in-4-trillion chance, so I guess I might be buying a lottery ticket today,” Procita told KCRA.

But maybe he should hold off.

While it is confirmed the Taurid meteor shower was happening on that night, The American Meteor Society refutes that the meteor — seen as a flaming ball of fire on that night around 7:30 p.m. — could have hit the home.

And NASA agrees, according to the press release by the society, saying it “disintegrated while still well up in the atmosphere.”

They describe a fireball as a specific type of meteor that is known to be larger than a normal, pebble-sized meteor.

“A meteor the size of a softball can produce the light equivalent to the full moon for a short instant,” the release said.

While it’s not common to see fireballs, the society stated, they still receive 100 reports per day on average from across the country via their “Report a Fireball” system.

Elinor Gates, staff astronomer at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, told SFGate that her colleague lived near the incident and saw the fireball, calling it the “brightest he’d ever seen.”

“What I can say is that it’s an amazing coincidence, timewise,” Gates said.

Concrete evidence will come from an investigation that Miller said will be completed in two weeks by the Penn Valley Fire Department.

Until then, everyone who witnessed it can still be considered lucky, given how rare it is to see fireballs,

“Dustin and Jeanette have been able to get clothing and essentials so far and we are working on getting a trailer for them to stay in while they rebuild,” Cindy Blanchard, organizer of the GoFundMe, wrote in an update. “We are still rummaging through the rubble looking for anything salvageable as well as the meteor itself.”