Utah Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Cameron Roden told CNN that a truck driven by a commercial beekeeper traveling from California to North Dakota overturned on Interstate 80 at about 10:40 a.m. local time Monday. Roden said the accident happened because the driver was driving too fast at a turn.
Roden reported that the right lane of eastbound I-80 was closed for approximately four hours to clear the crash site and the driver was taken to hospital with multiple bee stings and minor injuries from the accident. Many jawans present on the spot also got a bee sting.
Julie Arthur, president of the Wasatch Beekeepers Association, told CNN that the truck was carrying 416 boxes, each containing between 50,000-100,000 bees, used to pollinate crops across the country.
“At least 10 million bees were in the air,” Arthur said. He called his team to help capture the huge swarm, but the beekeeper told officials that it was not fair to try to save the bees.
As of Tuesday morning, Arthur did not receive a call saying that he and his team could conduct a rescue operation.
The scene was “a giant mess”, Arthur reported, with honey and honeycomb wax melting in the sun and boxes scattered everywhere, covered with fumes of fire, which some of the bees sprayed.
“A little equipment could have been saved,” observed Arthur. “But we found a huge pile of bees behind the hill.” He described seeing “a wall of bees” 8 feet long, 4 feet deep and 5 feet high. “We started storing the bees in boxes as soon as possible. They were no good. They were just thrown from a truck and most of them lost their queens.”
Overall, Arthur and a group of five volunteers saved about 10% of the wayward bees.
While rescued bees were previously destined to travel the country for farmers to pollinate crops, they are now being used as teaching aids for growing beekeepers.
“Many of those bees are going to be used as teaching hives for the Wasatch Beekeepers Association,” Arthur explained. “Others went to some beekeepers who helped, other organizations that needed bees, community gardens.”
Arthur said he hopes the incident will prompt Utah to develop a more integrated strategy for dealing with accidental bee releases.
“We had hours of confusion about who was allowed to do what,” she admitted. “The good thing to come out of this is that the Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation and local fire and police departments have said we need to come up with an immediate strategy if this happens again.”
“Everybody knows how valuable bees are to our environment, but they weren’t sure what to do,” she said. “It’s really fortunate that we had people who wanted to come out and help.”