John Blue Mountain Greenfire had just poured a cup of coffee and was outside enjoying the evening air around 8 p.m. Wednesday when he saw what he thought was an airplane on fire, heading toward Belgrade.

But while no fiery jetliner ever touched down at Gallatin Field airport, a white fireball, a type of meteor, was reported over Torrance, Calif., at 8:13 p.m. MST, traveling southeast, according to the American Meteor Society's 2010 Fireball Sightings Table.

"I was really puzzled," said Greenfire, who lives on Sourdough Road in southwest Bozeman. "All I saw was a ball of fire flying northwest for three, maybe four seconds."

The Southern California report indicated the fireball was as bright as the full moon.

Joe Shaw, an electrical engineering professor at Montana State University who watches the night sky, did not see the fireball, but said it was possible "someone in Southern California could see it, and we would see it also."

"I can't confirm it, but I certainly think it's within the realm of reality," despite the discrepancies in the directions the space objects were traveling, Shaw said. "It's an interesting coincidence at the very least."

Cheryl Delaney, who lives in the Castlebar Apartments on North 25th Avenue, went so far as to call 911 to report the event.

"It looked like a jumbo jet on fire," Delaney said. "It flew right over my apartment."

She said it was "black as tar with fire dropping from the bottom."

Officers on duty, however, did not see the alleged fireball and confirmed no airplanes were flying over the Bozeman area at that time, according to 911 dispatchers.