VANCOUVER, Wa - Brenda Ellis was getting ready for bed Thursday night when her brother called her outside and pointed to the sky. Before she could respond, Ellis said her daughter, Ashley Ellis, let out a shrill scream.
Darting back and forth in the night sky were what Ellis described as four unidentified flying objects. Yes, UFOs.
To be specific, they were four orange bulbs that dashed overhead until they ascended higher and higher, turned to white and disappeared, according to Ellis.
"They were super quiet, and so bright and so close," said Ellis, who was in the backyard of her Cascade Park home when she saw them taking off into the southern sky.
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The National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle confirmed Ellis' report and noted there were two other UFO accounts Thursday, one each in Vancouver and Seattle.
"What the objects were? I have no idea," said Peter Davenport, the director of the UFO center. "My suspicion is we'll never know."
The local reports, though, come on the heels of nearly 100 reports Davenport said the center has received since July 1, all detailing similar sightings. Reports, he said, have stretched from California to Connecticut.
He said details of the events depicted Thursday all came in shortly after 11 p.m.
He described the other Vancouver reporting party, whom he declined to identify, as a "credible, sober-minded, solid-sounding witness."
"I have no idea what happened," said Davenport, "but I am all but satisfied the people were reporting something other than fireworks."
On his website, Davenport describes the across-the-country reports he's been receiving: "Witnesses have described seeing strange red, orange, or yellow 'fireballs,' which have been seen either to hover in the night sky, or to streak overhead, sometimes individually, and on some occasions in clusters. In some instances, the objects were observed against a clear, cloudless sky, and in other cases, they were observed below solid or broken overcast."
That matches closely with Ellis' description, who watched the phenomenon with her brother, Mark Quam, one of his friends, and her two children, Ashley Ellis, 18, and Mikey Sumerhill, 11.
"My daughter was sitting there screaming, 'What is that? What is that?'Çƒ‚" she said. "It was so weird."
According to a copy of the anonymous Vancouver report received by Davenport, "As far as brightness goes, I would say maybe 10 times as bright as a normal star, and maybe half as bright as the lights I see on the commercial aircrafts flying in and out of PDX."
Jim Todd, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's planetarium manager, said through a spokesman there was "nothing unnatural in the sky" Thursday that provides a scientific explanation.
"At least we know it wasn't the planets aligning in a weird way, which happens from time to time," said Lee Dawson, an OMSI spokesman.
A Columbian reader suggested the sightings may have been a TR-3B, a triangular-shaped spy plane created for the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency at Nevada's famed Area 51. The alleged top-secret craft is the subject of much Internet chatter, but its existence is not confirmed.
Of the three reports Thursday night, Davenport said the one in Seattle came a few minutes before the back-to-back local accounts.
Local police said they were not aware of any strange activity.
"Dispatch has no record of calls coming in and we didn't respond," said Kim Kapp, a spokeswoman with the Vancouver Police Department. "It's probably, what, about two minutes to travel from Seattle to Vancouver in a UFO?"