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Calif. firefighters call beekeeper for help with swarmed vehicles

The firefighters responded to a call about a woman trapped in her car due to thousands of bees; then, the bees moved to their vehicle


Modesto firefighters called a beekeeper for help after responding to a call about a woman trapped in her car due to thousands of bees. About 1,500 bees moved onto a fire department vehicle after it arrived at the scene.

Photo/Modesto Fire Department

Erin Tracy
The Modesto Bee

MODESTO, Calif. — Modesto firefighters saved a woman trapped by fear inside her vehicle that was covered by thousands of bees Thursday. But then the bees moved on to one of the fire department vehicles.

The woman had left her job at the courthouse Thursday to find a swarm of buzzing bees on her vehicle, said Battalion Chief Mike Shockey. She quickly got in and drove to the highway, where she hoped they would all fly off. Some but not all did, so she drove back downtown to the fire station on 11th Street.

Beekeeper Mark Cardoza said it is the beginning of swarming season, a colony’s natural response to reduce its size when the hive becomes overcrowded.

Cardoza said worker bees raise a new queen and kick out the old. Much of the colony leaves with the older queen to form a new hive.

“When they leave, they are full of honey; they take a lot with them, so they are very lethargic,” Cardoza said.

As a result, they can’t fly very far before requiring a break. On Thursday afternoon, they chose the woman’s white sedan for that purpose.

Firefighters called dispatch, who gave them a number for two beekeepers. The first advised them over the phone to mist the bees with water.

“The beekeeper said their wings will get heavy and they will fall off, and that is what happened and she was able to drive away,” Shockey said.

But the beekeeper also told them they will likely reorganize somewhere else, and that is what they did, on a division chief’s SUV.

“I have been a firefighter for 23 years, and that is one of most unique calls I have had,” Shockey said.

He called the second beekeeper, Cardoza, who arrived on scene about 30 minutes later.

Cardoza estimated there were 1,500 bees on the fire vehicle but said there were probably twice that on the woman’s car originally. “They probably lost half off their colony going down the highway,” he said.

He scooped them onto one of the slats for the beehive box until he got the queen. Once she was in, the rest followed.

Most of them grouped up outside the box. Cardoza left them at the station until nightfall, when the temperature dropped and they all went inside.

Cardoza took them home and is working on nursing them back to health with sugar water.

“Hopefully, they will survive and she will start laying eggs and build them out,” he said.


©2020 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)