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Part of a hive of Africanized bees removed from a piece of Verizon fiber optic equipment in a Palm Desert, Calif., gated community Thursday. / The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Authorities are warning people to be careful when encountering bees in the Coachella Valley after five firefighters and two women, one who suffered as much as 1,000 stings, were hurt Thursday when Africanized bees swarmed inside a gated community here.

A 71-year-old woman suffered major injuries, another woman was also hurt, and the firefighters were treated for minor injuries Thursday after they were attacked inside the Montecito golf resort community.

A private service that was called to remove the bees, officials said, believed the insects were Africanized honey bees. There were two hives, estimated to hold anywhere from 65,000 to 75,000 bees.

Officials said the bees were contained and the hives were removed Thursday night.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Williams told reporters the severely injured woman suffered 1,000 stings and was rushed to a local hospital and treated for shock. The woman was expected to recover.

The first attack was reported at 4:40 p.m., according to Cal Fire's website.

Williams said the severely injured woman was "covered in bees as if she was wearing a bee suit."

"Three of (the firefighters) were essentially trying to fight the bees while rescuing the woman, and they were putting her into the ambulance to get her away from the scene," Williams said.

All five firefighters were taken to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage to be treated for bee stings to their faces and necks, he added.

Neighbors said emergency personnel arrived just in time to scoop the woman off the ground and get her into the ambulance.

A second woman was also stung, officials said, but she was able to drive herself to an area hospital. Her condition was unknown Thursday evening.

The hives were inside a posted metal box containing fiber optic equipment belonging to Verizon, Williams said.

He added that fire dispatchers used the reverse 911 system to warn residents within two miles of the site to stay indoors.

Linda Kent lives next door to the first woman who was stung. She described her as "a strong, healthy woman, it's not like she's sick or anything."

Kent, and other neighbors, stood on the porch of a home about two blocks away from the scene. Many were unable to get past the massed fire trucks and ambulances to their homes.

Williams said some residents had noticed bees in the area, but Kent said she only saw "one bee, earlier that morning."

Her husband, Bruce, was stung once about the same time their neighbor was attacked, but was able to get the stinger out, she said. "He was watering some flowers, that was all he was doing."

Bees are attracted to strong scents and vibrations such as those made by lawnmowers, said Robert Duffin, owner of Beesmart Bee Removal in Hemet, Calif.

The season for bees begins in early March so there are a lot of swarms this time of year, Duffin said, adding that people should avoid bees when they spot them. "Bees are very protective."

Multiple stings can send a victim into anaphylactic shock, causing swelling and difficulty breathing, and are fatal to those who are allergic to the venom, experts said.

Africanized bees - an aggressive insect

Africanized honeybees are affected by loud noises or vibrations such as those made by lawn mowers or power tools. If a hive is within 100 feet of such a noise, the bees may attack.

They do not like motion. Movement within 50 feet of the colony could lead to a swarm because the bees believe they are threatened.

If you kill one of these bees, it will secrete a pheromone that smells like bananas, alerting the others that the hive is in danger and prompt an attack.

If the Africanized honey bees attack, they will give chase. They have been known to follow a subject for about a quarter-mile, or the distance of four football fields.

If you are attacked

Run away. Africanized honey bees will continue to attack as long as they perceive a threat in the area.

Cover your face. Use clothes to protect your eyes and mouth.

Seek shelter, such as a car, house or other building.

Do not jump into water. Africanized honey bees will wait for you to surface.

Source: Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District

(Contributing: Reza Gostar)



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Woman suffers 1,000 stings as bees swarm Calif. street

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