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Bee Swarm in Santa Ana Was Africanized Strain

The attack last week was the first major incident in the county since 1999, when the dangerous variety arrived. Thirteen people were stung.

August 18, 2004|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Tens of thousands of bees that swept through a Santa Ana neighborhood last week, stinging 13 people and two dogs, both of them fatally, have been identified as Africanized honeybees, Orange County officials said Tuesday.

It was the first major attack by the so-called killer bees in Orange County since their arrival in 1999.

"The bees have been here for so long that I'm surprised this hasn't happened before," Michael Hearst, a spokesman for the Orange County Vector Control District, said of Thursday's attack by more than 120,000 bees in the 900 block of South Cypress Avenue.

Officials said the bees, which had set up three colonies in the wall of an apartment, became angered after boys threw rocks at their hives about 2 p.m. Thursday.

They first attacked the dogs, which were tied to a tree at a neighboring house. The animals, each stung more than 100 times, died Friday.

The bees then swept through the neighborhood as firefighters, having cordoned off a four-block area, used streams of water to keep them at bay.

"It was pandemonium," Santa Ana Fire Capt. Steve Horner later said of the scene. "Everywhere you looked, bees were attacking."

Eventually the bees were sprayed with insecticide and sucked up with vacuums.

The bees stung 13 people, including seven firefighters, two reporters, and a woman and daughter who were treated for allergic reactions.

The only previously recorded attack by Africanized honeybees against a person in Orange County occurred in September 2001, when a Fountain Valley city worker received 15 stings while on a routine maintenance call, said Rick Le Feuvre, the county's agricultural commissioner.

"The bees have been here for five years, and their temperament is a little more excitable" than the European variety's, he said.

The Africanized bees -- products of interbreeding between the common European bee and a group of more aggressive African bees inadvertently released in Brazil during the 1950s -- attack 20 times faster than their more mild-mannered cousins, pursue victims farther and stay angry longer, experts say.

A swarm is capable of delivering up to 200 stings a minute. About 30 people are stung to death each year in Mexico, authorities say, and eight deaths have been reported in the U.S. since 1990, when the bees first appeared north of the border.

Anyone seeing a hive in Orange County, Le Feuvre said, should assume it's an Africanized colony and contact a private pest-control company to remove it if it is on private property. Contact the city or county if the hive is on public land.

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