Balls of Fire

Fireball Laura described seeing three "balls of fire" while living in their farmhouse near Walnut Grove, Minnesota. (On the Banks of Plum Creek) What Laura was describing is what scientists today call "ball lightning". Nobody knows exactly what they are but there have been many sightings, mostly during thunderstorms. Laura did not say that there was thunder, but ball lightning has been seen without it.

Ball lightning is normally described as being a ball shape, around 0.1 - 0.2m (4 -8 inches) in diameter. Laura's description of "bigger than Ma's big ball of yarn" is consistent with this.

Ball lightnings generally last less than 5 seconds. Laura's account suggests a time of not much more than this.

Ball lightning sometimes is accompanied by a hissing or crackling sound and also sometimes a sulphurous smell. However, Laura neither mentioned a sound nor a smell.

Ball lightnings are often reported to be attracted to metallic objects such as wire fences or telephone lines and they often enter houses through chimneys. When attached to metallic objects, they generally move along those objects. Laura's ball lightnings came into the house through the metal stovepipe and were attracted to Ma's knitting needles.

Ball lightnings decay in one of two ways, either silently or with a bang. Laura's ball lightnings disappeared silently.

Some ball lightnings seem to burn objects but like others that have been reported, Laura's ball lightnings did not.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frontier Girl

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Rebecca Brammer & Phil Greetham
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