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Friday, March 7, 2014

Africanized Bees Swarm Two Women and CAL FIRE Firefighters Treated For Injuries

More than 70,000 bees found after Palm Desert bee attack

One woman stung 1,000 times; six others, including five firefighters, also stung

PALM DESERT — Authorities are warning people to be careful when encountering bees in the Coachella Valley after five firefighters and two women, one who suffered as much as 1,000 stings, were hurt Thursday when Africanized bees swarmed inside a Palm Desert gated community.

A 71-year-old woman suffered major injuries, another woman was also hurt, and the firefighters were treated for minor injuries Thursday after they were attacked along Lucerne Drive inside the Montecito community near Cook Street, which is surrounded by Desert Willow Golf Resort.

A private service called to remove the bees, officials said, believed the insects were Africanized honey bees. There were two hives, estimated to hold anywhere from 65,000 to 75,000 bees.

Officials said the bees were contained and the hives were removed Thursday night.

CAL Fire Battalion Chief Mark Williams told reporters that the severely injured woman suffered 1,000 stings and was rushed to a local hospital where it was determined she was in shock. He added, though, that the woman was expected to recover.

The first attack was reported at 4:40 p.m., according to CAL Fire’s website.

Williams said the severely injured woman was “covered in bees as if she was wearing a bee suit.”

“Three of (the firefighters) were essentially trying to fight the bees while rescuing the woman, and they were putting her into the ambulance to get her away from the scene,” Williams said. All five firefighters were taken to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage to be treated for bee stings to their faces and necks, he added.

A second woman was also stung, officials said, but she was able to drive herself to an area hospital. Her condition was unknown Thursday evening.

The hives were inside a posted metal box containing fiber optic equipment belonging to Verizon, Williams said.

He added that fire dispatchers used the reverse 911 system to warn residents within two miles of the site to stay indoors.

Linda Kent lives next door to the first woman who was stung. She described her as “a strong, healthy woman, it’s not like she’s sick or anything.”

Kent, and other neighbors, stood on the porch of a home about two blocks away from the scene, many were unable to get past the massed fire trucks and ambulances to their homes.

Williams said some residents had noticed bees in the area, but Kent said she only saw “one bee, earlier that morning.”

Her husband, Bruce, was stung once about the same time their neighbor was attacked, but was able to get the stinger out, she said. “He was watering some flowers, that was all he was doing.”

Neighbors who were home at the time said it wasn’t clear who first called 911 when the bees swarmed, but emergency personnel arrived just in time to scoop the woman off the ground and get her into the ambulance.

Bees are attracted to strong scents and vibrations such as those made by lawnmowers, said Robert Duffin, owner of Beesmart Bee Removal in Hemet.

The season for bees begins in early March so there are a lot of swarms this time of year in the valley, Duffin said, adding that people should avoid bees when they spot them. “Bees are very protective.”

Experts also said that Africanized honey bees first arrived in the Coachella Valley in the late 1990s.

In previous incidents of valley bee attacks, Kirk Visscher, professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, said any unmanaged colony of bees should be considered to be Africanized bees, and although that may not always be the case, it’s best to take precautions as if they were.

The bee population tends to be larger during the spring, when there are more flowers for the insects to feed on, Visscher said.

In 2012 in Indio, two people suffered more than 180 stings between them after they were swarmed by bees outside a home in the 81-000 block of Francis Avenue.

Multiple stings can send a victim into anaphylactic shock, causing swelling and difficulty breathing, and are fatal to those who are allergic to the venom.

Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District
Desert Sun reporter Reza Gostar contributed to this report. 


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