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Millions of angry bees swarm over highway after semitrailer crash

July 2, 2022 Updated Sat., July 2, 2022 at 7:02 p.m.

Honey bees buzz about on a hive frame.  (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
Honey bees buzz about on a hive frame. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
By Lindsey Bever Washington Post

More than 25 million bees escaped earlier this week when a semitrailer truck that was hauling them overturned on a highway in Utah, according to law enforcement and beekeepers.

Clouds of bees were seen swarming Monday morning over Interstate 80 in Summit County after the truck tipped over on the winding roadway, unleashing hordes of angry bees that started stinging first responders and others, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Randall Richey told the Washington Post.

“We were telling drivers to roll up windows and keep moving,” he said in a phone interview on Saturday.

Richey, who was on the scene, said the driver said there was a loud bang before the accident, indicating there may have been a mechanical malfunction. But a preliminary investigation determined the driver was taking curves too fast, and he was cited for driving at a speed too high for conditions, Richey said. The investigation is ongoing.

Richey said the driver and a co-driver who was in the truck both suffered minor injuries and numerous bee stings and were treated at a hospital.

Neither was publicly identified.

Firefighters were alerted Monday by the trucking company that had been in contact with the owner of the bees. The company said the owner wanted them to be sprayed down with firefighting foam for safety and liability reasons, Richey said.

Julie Arthur, president of the Wasatch Beekeepers Association, told the Post the truck was transporting 416 boxes of bees, each of which typically carries 50,000 or more, to be used for pollination of food crops on the West Coast. She said the fire suppressant is deadly to bees and only about 10% of them survived.

“There was just bee mud on the ground,” she said. “You could see piles and piles and piles of dead bees. It was so sad.”

Arthur said volunteer beekeepers who showed up to help rescue the surviving bees were initially turned away. Once she received clearance on Tuesday, she started calling the volunteers back to help with what turned out to be a days-long rescue effort. She said that the volunteers started collecting the bees “pickup truckload by pickup truckload” and passing many of them along to local beekeepers.

Volunteers rescued bees that had migrated to nearby sagebrush along the highway, using lopping shears to cut away layers of the shrubs containing the bees and shaking them into boxes, Arthur said.

“It was craziness,” she said

She said there were also some intact colonies that were buried beneath the rubble, which had protected them from the firefighting foam.

In all, she estimated that the volunteers saved an estimated 2.5 million bees – some of which will be used to help educate new backyard beekeepers on the best ways to keep bees in residential areas.

Arthur said the Wasatch Beekeepers Association has been wanting to start a teaching program using its own teaching hives but hasn’t had the funding to purchase the bees and equipment. She said the association now has the bees, and a company called Harvest Lane Honey that sells bee supplies is donating enough equipment for about 10 teaching hives.

She said it will enable the Wasatch Beekeepers Association to educate beekeepers on how to “properly maintain a honeybee colony in a hive in a way that helps them raise healthy colonies.”

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