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Lightning storm in Riverside County knocks down power lines, trapping bus passengers [Updated]

August 25, 2010 |  5:11 pm

A powerful lightning storm passing over southwest Riverside County on Wednesday afternoon knocked down power lines, briefly trapping 11 passengers inside a bus in Lake Elsinore, and ignited at least five small fires, authorities said.

Power lines fell on top of a Riverside Transit Agency bus at 3 p.m., stranding the passengers and drivers for close to 90 minutes as they waited for rescue crews to cut the lines, said Riverside County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Joe Borja.

“The bus driver did the absolute right thing by stopping the bus and calling police and fire," Borja said.
The passengers and bus driver were safely evacuated around 4:30 p.m.

Riverside Transit Agency spokesman Bradley Weaver said the Route 7 bus has a passenger compartment made of non-conductive fiberglass, shielding those inside from potential harm from the power lines.

[Updated at 6:20 p.m.: Residents in a 10-square-block area of Lake Elsinore were trapped after power lines were knocked down and fell on their homes. Southern California Edison officials said it could be another hour before residents are allowed to leave their homes.]

The destructive storm cells, born from the triple-digit heat in the Inland Empire, first hit after 1 p.m., starting with heavy downpours and then delivering dry lightning, said Cheri Patterson of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in Riverside County.

A lightning strike in Menifee started a three-acre brush fire that, for a time, threatened nearby homes. Fire crews and air tankers quickly attacked the blaze, allowing firefighters to gain the upper hand by the late afternoon,  Patterson said.

Lightning and erratic winds were also blamed for igniting four other small fires in the Temecula and Sage areas, one growing to 35 acres. By Wednesday afternoon, fire crews had the blazes either contained or largely under control, according to the state forestry department.

-- Phil Willon in Riverside