Two Phoenix women are in critical condition today after a swarm of bees attacked them Thursday night, authorities said.
Phoenix Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Jacobs declined to disclose their names, but said the two women, who were about 55 years old and 75 years old, were out for an evening stroll when the bee swarm descended, stinging them hundreds of times.
By the time authorities arrived and used foam to stop the bee attack the women were rolling on the ground, covered in bees, he said.
"These women had the fight taken out of them," Jacobs said. "They were done trying to knock the bees off of them and that's a really big deal. It shows the severity of how many times they'd been stung."
He said that a good Samaritan, a Phoenix man in his 20s who tried to help the women, was also stung dozens of times and taken to an area hospital.
"It looked like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They were covered, I mean covered in bees, you couldn't see their face or their skin," Tony Garcia, another onlooker who tried to help the women, told KNXV. "The other guy was getting stung so he handed me the fire extinguisher and I was trying to get the bees to stop. It was something else, they [the women] had bees in their hair, ears, just all over."
Authorities said the attack, which happened near an apartment complex in north Phoenix, appeared to be an isolated incident.
Sometimes bees attack when provoked, other times an article of clothing in a particular color can set them off. It's difficult to know the precise trigger, Jacobs said.
Residents in the area told KNXV that children had been throwing rocks at a hive in the eave of a nearby apartment building.
"[The women] were minding their own business," Jacobs said. "It sounds like this was bad timing."
He emphasized that bees are particularly active this time of year.
"Everything is starting to blossom right now," Jacobs said, adding that recent heavy rainfall has only added to the vegetation. "This time is extremely busy for us. …This is the bee season."
While the Phoenix area's call center typically receives about 20 bee-related calls a day, Jacobs said that number could surge to 300 to 600 per day, given the recent publicity.
However, he said, most calls are nonthreatening. The Fire Department only dispatches officers to respond when the bees are in a schoolyard or somewhere dangerous.
Jerry Keele, owner of The Bee Keeper in Phoenix, said bees in the area thrive all year round, but when spring comes "these hives explode."
Keele said his business receives about 25 to 30 bee-related calls a day, but he predicts that within a couple of days he'll start receiving 150 to 200 calls each day.
"We deal with this every single year," he said.
Keele didn't witness the bees attacking the two women, but said that based on reports, he thinks the bees were not honey bees, but Africanized bees. They look just like honey bees and produce the same amount of honey, but Keele said they're more aggressive.
"You get anywhere near their hives and they come after you," he said. "They don't need to be provoked. Africanized bees, they see movement, they'll come after you."
He said that when people are in the immediate vicinity of an active swarm of bees, their best bet is to get out of the way.
"If you have a chance to run, you need to get inside of a home, inside of a car," he said. "Your only shot is to get somewhere that they're not."