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Dangerous thunderstorms easing in Southern California today

June 4, 2009 |  7:30 am

The thunderstorms that caused two deaths and several brush fires in Southern California are expected to ease today but could return Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Lightning and thunder pounded portions of the Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valley on Wednesday. Forecasters say rain showers are still possible but that the danger of more lightning is lessened today.

In Los Angeles, the NWS says scattered showers are possible with temperatures in the 60s and low 70s. The showers are expected to linger into Friday.

On Wednesday, thunder rumbled through the Southland, and freak storms pelted the region with hail and unseasonable rain and spurred lightning, killing two women in San Bernardino County, bedeviling aviation and touching off more than a dozen brush fires on the parched mountain slopes ringing Los Angeles County.

The first of the fatalities occurred at about 11 a.m. when lightning snapped off a tree limb in a residential neighborhood near Big Bear Lake. The limb crashed onto a vehicle, crushing and killing driver Elena Martinez, 31.

Two hours later, a 35-year-old woman was killed by lightning that struck near a tree in the frontyard of her Fontana home.

The Fontana victim was not immediately identified.

In Cabazon, a woman shopping at the outlet mall just off Interstate 10 suffered moderate injuries from a near-miss lightning strike as she walked across the parking lot just after noon, said Riverside County Fire Department spokeswoman Jody Hagemann. The woman was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

A Southwest Airlines plane bound for Burbank was struck by lightning more than half an hour into its flight, forcing the pilot to return to Oakland with the 53 passengers on board. There were no injuries or damage to the aircraft, and travelers were put on later flights. The plane returned to service after a safety inspection.

Lightning was blamed for more than a dozen brush fires in the Cleveland, Angeles and San Bernardino national forests. In the largest, called the McKinley Fire, 150 acres burned before firefighters could extinguish the fire, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Norma Bailey.

The electrical storms that swept inland areas also were suspected as the cause of a small blaze above the San Dimas Canyon Golf Course in eastern Los Angeles County.

Temperatures were about 10 degrees below normal in the Los Angeles area, with downtown L.A. registering 67 degrees at 2 p.m. Rain is so rare at this time of year that records were broken in Palmdale, Sandberg and Camarillo, where there had been zero precipitation on June 3 in all the years that the National Weather Service had been keeping records, the Oxnard office reported.

Small hailstones drummed at least four beachfront communities in San Diego County, as well as Murrieta in Riverside County, another oddity in late spring, according to the weather service.

-- Carol J. Williams

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