LYNNWOOD — An overturned semitruck on I-5 Friday morning released more than 13 million honeybees, which stung firefighters, state troopers and others trying to clean up the mess.
Bees coated patrol cars, ambulances and other vehicles that happened by. Traffic backed up for miles.
Washington State Patrol Sgt. Keith Leary was stung three times and had one bee fly into his mouth.
“It looked like a gold, grayish-brown fuzzy cloud,” Leary said of the swarming bees. “When you are looking into the sun, it is like, ‘Wow, that is something you would see on Animal Planet TV,’ only it would be someone with a good lens photographing it from far away.”
An Idaho truck driver was hauling the 448 hives from Sunnyside in Eastern Washington to a blueberry farm in Lynden when he merged from I-405 onto northbound I-5 around 3:30 a.m. That’s when the truck tipped onto its side and dumped its load in the HOV lane and median.
The driver, 36, wasn’t hurt.
The bees weren’t so fortunate.
“They are pretty much a total loss,” Leary said.
Troopers, firefighters and the Washington Department of Transportation dealt with the traffic and safety issues. They consulted with Belleville Honey and Beekeeping Supply of Burlington, which owns the bees, Leary said.
The bees were fairly subdued until the sun rose and the weather warmed, Leary said.
The decision was made to spray foam on the boxes that housed the hives. Meanwhile, people worked to clear the highway of the swarms.
“I think pretty much everybody has been stung,” Snohomish County Fire District 1 spokeswoman Leslie Hynes said. Protective gear couldn’t totally cover the firefighters.
It made for an unusual sight for people passing by.
“It created an eye-candy slowdown,” Leary said. Many took video and photographs, creating a potentially hazardous situation.
Leary grew concerned because people in the cars would roll down their windows to photograph. That put them at risk of inviting large numbers of bees inside.
Eventually, a front-loader was brought in to scoop up the wreckage. As many as six dump truck loads were hauled away. Thousands of bees took refuge in the shrubs alongside the freeway.
Troopers are investigating the cause of the crash.
The cleanup took several hours.
Lynnwood firefighters got their share of stings as well.
“We don’t see this every day in Lynnwood,” city spokeswoman Julie Moore said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org