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Young beekeeper helps contain escaped bees in Wichita parking lot

When workers showed up at ProBuild at 125 W. MacArthur Road around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, they were in for a big surprise: A swarm of bees had taken up residence near the business.

Several thousand bees escaped after a semi transporting them broke down early Wednesday morning, authorities said. Calls to 911 shortly before 8 a.m. reported “people were getting stung” by the renegade bees, a Sedgwick County emergency dispatcher said.

Beekeeping help didn’t arrive until just after 9 a.m.

Renee Knoblauch and her daughter Ann showed up with beekeeping gear ready to help after hearing about it on Yahoo. Ann developed her love of bees on a field trip to see beekeepers about five years ago. At the time, Renee was too afraid of stinging insects to go into the hive, but Ann put on the beekeeping suit. A bee got stuck on Ann’s neck and stung her in the head, and she started crying.

“We flicked it out and she headed right back to the hive,” Renee said.

“I’m fearless,” said Ann. “I’m just born that way.”

When they first arrived on the scene Wednesday morning, Renee didn’t think there were that many bees because she saw piles of dead bees. But when Renee and Ann put on their beekeeping gear they saw thousands.

“You guys going to be able to get them all?” asked John Aston, another beekeeper who arrived as they were putting on their netted hats.

“I don’t know,” Ann said. “I haven’t done one that has been scattered like this before. Usually we can sweep (the bees) right off.”

“We live out in the country,” Aston said. “We get swarms like that but not that big.”

“I’m assuming the queen is going to be over by the pole,” Renee said, as they got together to decide how to approach the hive. “Because that’s the biggest cluster.”

They headed out with honeycomb boxes and lemongrass oil to attract the bees. They set the box by the biggest swarm on a light pole in the parking lot and then took a brush and swept the extra bees that didn’t go in on their own into the box.

“We’re not going to get all of them, obviously,” Renee said. “The other ones will regroup and calm down and fly away. They may find another hive where they’ll die.”

The bees first announced their presence late Tuesday afternoon after two semis hauling bees stopped in the parking lot of the Kmart at Broadway and 47th Street South, the emergency dispatcher said. The drivers were looking for a safe place to park for the night.

But some bees escaped the trucks and were stinging people at a nearby fireworks tent, the dispatcher said. A caller to 911 shortly after 5:45 p.m. reported bees swarming by the tent. One of the trucks continued on its way Wednesday morning, but the other broke down.

Police did not mobilize to try to gather up the bees on the loose.

“We’re just not equipped to deal with bees,” Capt. Jose Salcido said.

Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle

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