Donna Marcotte saw a ball of fire, Pamela Moore feared that glass was falling on her and Gini Kernozicky ducked under the bar she was tending after hearing what she thought was a gunshot ring out Saturday in Keene.

Chalk it up to another unpredictable day of weather during this wet and wild New Hampshire summer.

While a lightning strike shut down a shopping center and blew up a manhole cover in Keene, another bolt started a fire in a Salem home and hail covered the ground before being wiped away by a torrential downpour.

"You get these in the area, but this one was remarkable," said Capt. Arthur Johnson of the Keene Fire Department of the seven storm-related strikes in the city on Saturday.

The strikes happened shortly after 2 p.m., with several buildings in the Colony Mill getting the worst of it.

According to witnesses, lightning hit an old smokestack attached to the main building and also the building next door that houses La Carreta restaurant.

Pamela Moore, owner of a bridal shop in the mill, said she heard "a sizzling noise, then there was a sonic boom explosion." She raced for cover as debris started descending from the ceiling.

"I thought it was glass; it turned out to be the plaster from the ceiling," Moore said.

Moore said people could see a flash of lightning streak down one of the hallways. Kernozicky, a bartender at the Elm City Brewery housed inside the mill, said she ducked for cover after hearing the strike.

"I thought it was gunfire, then I could see a bright flash of light across the street," Kernozicky said.

As it turned out, the lightning also hit the building next door, knocking out the electricity and forcing La Carreta to shut down. It is scheduled to re-open today for lunch.

Most of the businesses inside the main building at the Colony Mill were able to re-open later in the day Saturday, although the building was evacuated for a couple of hours as fire officials investigated. The strike affected electrical, telephone and computer systems.

A couple of blocks away, Marcotte was working at the Suds Bucket, a West Street laundromat, when she saw a ball of fire rise up from the ground.

"It was huge and then it went back down into the ground," Marcotte said. "I've never seen anything in my life like it."

Johnson said what Marcotte saw was lightning hitting a manhole cover and shattering it into pieces.

In Salem, Kimberly Straffin thought of her relatives in the tornado country of Kansas as the skies over her Salem home turned what she described as a dark green before hail came down for several minutes.

"I was about to get everyone down into the basement," Straffin said.

Straffin said the hail covered her yard and car with what looked like a blanket of winter snow. It was quickly washed away by a downpour. The effects were longer lasting a few miles away along Arlington Lake as lightning struck a house on Shore Drive, causing significant damage.

It could have been a lot worse.

According to the Salem Fire Department, the bolt probably gained entry through a copper wire attached to a propane tank. The tank did not blow up and a sprinkler system inside the house contained most of the fire damage to the basement. There was water and smoke damage on the main floor of the house at 270 Shore Drive, which is listed to Christine Zabransky.