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Firefighters Unprepared for Bee Attack

Crews are trained to deal with 10,000 of the insects, not the 120,000 that swarmed a Santa Ana neighborhood this week and stung 13.

August 14, 2004|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana firefighters -- well-versed in how to tackle blazes, vehicle accidents, floods and even earthquakes -- said Friday that they were unprepared when they encountered a new adversary this week: an enormous swarm of angry bees.

More than 120,000 bees dislodged from an apartment wall Thursday attacked a Santa Ana neighborhood, sending residents, firefighters and journalists scrambling.

"It was the first time I've dealt with bees of this magnitude," said Santa Ana fire Capt. Stephen Horner.

"Usually, we deal with a small colony with about 5,000 to 10,000 bees."

Officials said firefighters weren't prepared because they get minimal training on bees. Firefighters get basic training in a class on general topics such as how to deal with bees, identifying types of bees and what protective gear to wear but not how to catch and dispose of bees.

Firefighters can spray small groups of bees with foam but usually call bee professionals for larger swarms. Firetrucks carry only bee bonnets and nets.

"We don't really run into bee problems," said firefighter Fred Castro, who was stung four times on the face and neck during Thursday's attack. "It was the first for a lot of people."

The bees, hidden in a wall at an apartment complex in the 900 block of South Cypress Avenue, grew angry after boys threw rocks at the hives, Horner said. That sparked the bees to buzz around the neighborhood, stinging 13 people and two dogs. The dogs died Friday from more than 100 stings each, officials said.

"We were overwhelmed when we arrived," Horner said. "[The bees] were pretty hostile everywhere we went."

The bees first attacked the dogs tied to a tree at a neighboring house, where a mother and her three children moved in two weeks ago. The dogs' barking prompted the woman to run outside, then she frantically called 911. The bees attacked her 11-year-old daughter as her two other children ran for cover.

Horner said it will be determined next week whether the bees were European or African "killer" bees.

The bees were sprayed with an insecticide, said Bee Busters owner David Marder, then vacuumed up. There were so many bees, he said, that the walls of the apartment will have to be torn apart to kill them all. About 500 pounds of honey found in the walls will be dumped at the county landfill, Marder said.

Steve Sudduth, the apartment manager, said the residents whose wall the bees were living in never told him about the bees. "I was there fixing their leaking sink on Tuesday and they didn't say a word," he said.

The residents, a husband and wife who have lived in the unit for more than a year, could not be reached for comment.

Bees appear during spring and summer and it is the homeowner's responsibility to have the hives removed, officials said.

"The only time we respond to bee calls is when it's on our city property," said Sondra Harvey, animal service officer for Santa Ana Animal Control. "We don't have the equipment and we're not trained, so when we get bee calls, we tell them to open up the Yellow Pages."

Castro said it was challenging to fight the bees while also trying to protect people being attacked up to a block away. "We don't run into a lot of bee calls like that. It's my first bee call in 25 years. You always hear stories that they attack you, but now I'm a believer."

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