By Sarah Pridgeon
A semi tractor rolled over near Carlile and spilled its cargo of live bees across Hwy 14 on the morning of September 19. With a cloud of buzzing insects surrounding the site, crawling across the damaged and broken hives, it took seven hours for the response team to completely clear the road.
“We had beekeepers come out to help us from Gillette and Beulah and they salvaged a good portion,” says Jason Perry, Hulett Fire Chief, who acted as incident command.
“They estimated that there were 420 colonies and as many as 50,000 bees in each one. I did the math and worked out there were up to 21 million bees on that tractor trailer.”
The driver, 26-year-old Yadel Irun-Morales from Las Vegas, was not injured in the accident. The 20-strong team comprised of Hulett Fire Department volunteers, Fire Warden Gari Gill and EMS respondents from Hulett and Moorcroft, however, were not quite so lucky.
“I only know of one person who didn’t get stung – and when one bee stings you, it releases a pheromone that attracts other bees,” says Perry.
“People were stung as much as half a mile away. Even in the cool of the morning, those bees were pretty active, buzzing about and covering the hives – there was a cloud of them above the trailer.”
Bee spillages being a relatively uncommon occurrence, there was minimal protection available for all team members but the beekeepers.
“The firefighters had their turnout gear on, but we’re not equipped with bee suits,” says Perry. “There were some minor reactions to the stings, but the hospital sent out medication so we were able to treat them.”
Despite the adverse conditions, the team worked diligently to clear the debris, finally completing the task at around 3 p.m. on the same day. Thanks to their efforts, the recaptured bees will be able to continue their journey south to California for the winter.
“It was quite an ordeal,” Perry concludes. “I sincerely hope that this was a once-in-a-lifetime call.”