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Fire in the sky

SEPT. 5 — Phones at Coast Guard stations from New York all the way to South Carolina were ringing off the hook Sept. 1 with reports of fire raining from the sky, burning boats, flares or even strobe lights, says Nyx Cangemi, a petty officer first class and spokesperson for the Coast Guard in Atlantic City, N.J.

“We started getting calls about 8:15 p.m., about two dozen from Normandy Beach, N.J.,” says Cangemi. “So we sent a helicopter, rescue boat, and a commercial salvage crew, and no debris fields were found.”

After finding no signs of distress or charred remnants of a boat, they called off the search at 11 p.m. The next day, Cangemi got a bright idea.

“We were getting flooded with calls from the media, and someone said there was a report for a meteor shower,” says Cangemi. “So I did a search on Google.”

Cangemi discovered that an Aurigid Meteor Shower was expected to be visible the day the reports came in, but only visible on the West Coast. According to, these outbursts are very infrequent, with the last few viewed in 1935, 1986 and 1994.

“We don’t know if that was the cause, so we are leaving this case open,” says Cangemi. “We take each call seriously here, and we’d rather go out and find out it was a non-distress call than not and have it be someone in distress. But this is the first time I’ve experienced something like this.”

— Elizabeth Ellis