An unidentified woman was driving recently on Illinois Route 36 in the vicinity of Larry Schlabach's rural Arthur residence when she saw a giant chimney of flames pierce the horizon.

She promptly turned her car in the opposite direction and stepped on the gas. By the time she reached the town of Atwood, she was doing 85 mph.

And since the speed limit in Atwood is only 45 mph, an alert local police officer initiated a traffic stop. The woman was horrified the cop would waste his time on her during such a crisis.

"It's the end of the world!" she exclaimed. "Terre Haute (Ind.) just got nuked!"

The officer, who along with other area police agencies had been notified previously about the test of Larry Schlabach's latest pyrotechnic innovation, replied: "It's just the Schlabachs."

"Is that a terrorist organization?" the woman asked.

"No," the policeman said, "they're Amish."

In addition to a good laugh, this story gave Schlabach (who isn't actually Amish anymore) and Mark Jones, coordinator for the 2007 Gigantic Fireworks Display at the 2007 Arthur Independence Day Celebration, exactly what they needed: a name for Schlabach's new and improved conflagration.

"The End of the World Fireball," which makes its debut Saturday night during the just-as-aptly-named Gigantic Fireworks Display in Arthur, features a 300-gallon tank that propels a massive sphere of combustion about 150 feet in the air - twice as high as the pyrotechnician's earlier 50-gallon fireball devices.

Comment: Its not so funny. If local Muslim community members were to build and test a 150ft fireball device you can be sure they'd be whisked away to a secret torture camp before you can say "4th of July".

Schlabach will still roll out his famous "Wall of Fire," which is slated to follow immediately after the "End of the World Fireball" during the fireworks show that begins about 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the fairgrounds south of Arthur.

Jones recalled his awe during the recent test of the new fireball at Schlabach's cabin. "I couldn't believe how high the flames went," he said.

"It was like a small atomic bomb."

Schlabach formerly made his fireballs in only five-gallon drums. Because his primary ingredient was expensive and hard to find, the 50-gallon fireballs - which premiered at the Arthur show in 2003 - became increasingly difficult to fund and manufacture.

So Schlabach, who has helped with the Arthur fireworks since 2000 and is also the man responsible for the popular Niagara Falls and Rural Patriot displays, adapted his mysterious fireball formula and based it on a substance that is "readily available (and) doesn't really cost anything," he said.

With an abundance of cheap, explosive material suddenly available, the next step was obvious. "We thought, well, we might as well try for something bigger," Schlabach said.

When he found the unused 300-gallon tank behind his hog house, the apocalyptic fireball came to life.

And now the sky is falling.