PHOENIX, AZ -- Residents who saw a ball of fire in the sky late Sunday evening near Saguaro Lake witnessed a giant meteor, officials said.

Phoenix and Scottsdale police and Rural/Metro Fire Department dispatchers received calls from residents reporting a plane going down in "a ball of fire." Another caller reported seeing a meteor.

"It was a large ball of flame," Rural/Metro Fire Department spokeswoman Alison Cooper said. "It was very large. It was seen as far as Washington state."

Kip and Valerie Wachter saw the fireball pass over their heads about 10:15 Sunday evening as they walked north of Pinetop.

"The colors were a bright green, red, white. The size was about three times wider than its length. It seemed to emanate a low, soft swishing sound as it passed overhead," the Wachters wrote in an e-mail to The Republic.

Steve Kates, a Chandler resident and science journalist known as "Dr. Sky," said that description, particularly the noise, was consistent with meteoric activity.

Most meteors visible on earth occur high in the atmosphere and these "shooting stars" are about the size of a grain of dust, said Jeffrey Hall, associate director at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

"The great majority are these tiny particles moving through the atmosphere at a high rate of speed," Hall said. "Larger ones tend to be moving more slowly and produce a much larger trail through the sky."

Between 10 and 50 meteor events occur over the Earth each day, according to the American Meteor Society, with the vast majority happening over oceans and out of eyesight. Meteors lose mass and decelerate as they enter the atmosphere, with only the largest slamming into the Earth and forming a crater. Scientists think the Barringer Crater, near Winslow, was formed by an iron meteor about 50,000 years ago.

Kates said a meteorite the size of a human fist could have created the light show West Coast residents witnessed Sunday night.

Rural/Metro responded to the north side of Saguaro Lake but found no sign of damage or destruction from a plane crash, Cooper said. Witnesses reported seeing the meteor travel from southwest to northeast.

Hall said the meteor likely never made it to the ground.

"This is not like a mountain coming into the atmosphere. It's more like the size of a softball," Hall said. "Even something this bright probably burned up completely in the atmosphere."