It was about 7:30 Wednesday night when Gehri Rinaldi took time out from her son's 14th birthday party. She went outside to the front porch and lit a cigarette.

That's when she saw the strange lights in the sky. In all directions.

By the time the UFO show was over, Rinaldi and her son, Dalton Mosher, had seen weird, inexplicable sights.

"I saw four of them in a row, and I went, 'wow,'" Rinaldi recalled. "The lights were reddish-orange. I called Dalton out. We looked left and saw two more. And then we saw them going through the trees. That's how low they were."

The family's experience was one of at least four reported Wednesday -- all at about the same time and in the same general area -- to the Somerset County Communications Center.

There might be an explanation in the form of the Vermont Air National Guard.

Marie Endsley, Vermont Air Guard spokeswoman, said a unit did practice maneuvers in Maine on Wednesday night with three F-16 jet fighter planes. The training mission could explain the lights that several residents reported seeing fairly close to the ground.

"We were conducting our normal training missions and were flying through there," Endsley said. "They were for a short period of time."

Endsley said F-16s now fly lower than 7,000 feet. Flares, she said, might look reddish-orange, but would disintegrate well before hitting the ground.

Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said there were no weather-related conditions Wednesday night that could have caused such sightings.

Other calls came from Skowhegan Road in Fairfield, Main Street in Norridgewock and Norridgewock Avenue in Skowhegan. The Fairfield caller reported seeing "strange lights in the sky heading south," while the Skowhegan caller reported seeing yellow lights in the sky over Skowhegan.

Somerset County Sheriff's Deputy Richie Putnam took the calls from Anson and Norridgewock. Putnam said neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the Brunswick Naval Air Station reported any flights in the area.

"(People) were seeing streaks of white light, and it wasn't anything that they recognized," Putnam said.

Rinaldi, who moved from Arizona to Anson only three weeks ago, tried in vain to photograph her close encounter with her 35 mm camera, but it jammed.

"It worked for me inside the house, for the birthday party," she said. "It shut itself off outside. It would not take a picture."

Rinaldi also said she saw one UFO that streaked sideways over the sky, like a comet. When she went inside to check the camera, she heard her son hollering.

"Mom, Mom, there's more!" Dalton Mosher yelled.

By that time, Mosher recalled, he was getting a little scared -- especially when he saw lights moving through the trees.

"There were a bunch more," he said. "One just shot across. It looked like it had a tail on it. I was just scared. I didn't know what to think of it."

Gehri Rinaldi said she doesn't spook easily.

"The part that startled me the most was when I went back out 30 or 40 minutes later to have a cigarette, and all the dogs were howling," she said.

UFO sightings were reported a week ago in the Farmington area. Lt. Niles Yeaton of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department said he thought they were flares from military planes in training. People in the area have heard low-flying jets at night, Yeaton added.

Somerset County Sheriff Barry A. DeLong said he doesn't dismiss stories of UFOs, because he has seen one.

It happened back in the 1970s, when he was on patrol one night in Bingham.

"I didn't want to talk about it," DeLong said. "I didn't want people to think I was crazy."

DeLong said the lights he saw were not far from the ground.

"They were hovering about 15 feet from my cruiser, late at night," the sheriff said.

"It had fixed lights that were spinning. It was huge, and oval-shaped. I knew it wasn't a jet fighter. It slowly started backing off toward Sugarloaf, and then at a terrific speed."