Angry bees attack woman, pets; 3 dogs dead

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Firefighters rescued two cats. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Firefighters rescued two cats. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
The woman was taken to the hospital. Her condition was not immediately available. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) The woman was taken to the hospital. Her condition was not immediately available. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
A firefighters carries one of the injured animals from the house. (Source: Scottsdale Fire Department) A firefighters carries one of the injured animals from the house. (Source: Scottsdale Fire Department)
Firefighters said there was a a large swarm of aggressive bees. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Firefighters said there was a a large swarm of aggressive bees. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
One of the hives weighed 70 pounds. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) One of the hives weighed 70 pounds. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)

Firefighters said a woman and her pets -- three dogs and five cats -- were injured in a bee attack at a home in Scottsdale Sunday afternoon. All three of the dogs died.

It happened in the neighborhood northwest of Hayden Road and McDonald Drive. Crews reported a large swarm of aggressive bees from a massive 70-pound hive in the attic of the two-story townhouse. The exterminator, RJ Riedlinger, estimated that there were some 50,000 bees in the hive. He told firefighters it was the largest he had ever seen.

The dogs were outside when they were attacked, possibly caught in "hive war" between the colony in the townhouse and a hive found on a nearby unit in the complex.

A neighbor called the homeowner and told her the dogs were being attacked by bees.

"Her dog was covered -- covered -- in bees, more than 100," Natalie Bendsten, a family friend, said.

The woman hustled the three dogs -- Peanut, Lola and Comet -- into the house. She called 911 and then holed up with them in the bathroom until firefighters arrived.

"They were pretty bad off," Battalion Chief Adam Hoster of the Scottsdale Fire Department said of the dogs. "They were just covered with bees."

Hoster said the woman was stung several times. Our photographer on the scene said he saw firefighters carrying her out of the house. She was taken to the hospital but has since been released.

Her three dogs were not as lucky. Two died of their injuries; the third had to be euthanized. 

Firefighters rescued two cats from the house. Crews later went back inside to find two kittens. All four cats survived.

At least two firefighters were stung. Bees got inside the nets they wore over their helmets.

"This one seemed to get progressively worse," Hoster said of the incident.

Firefighters used foam to suffocate the bees. Riedlinger then removed both hives, but there are still honeycombs and bees in the home.

The homeowner said her insurance does not cover this kind of incident.

Riedlinger said he believes they were aggressive honeybees, but not Africanized honeybees, often referred to as "killer bees."

European honeybees vs. Africanized honeybees

Experts say the main difference between Africanized honeybees, which first showed up in North America in the early '90s, and European honeybees is their defense to perceived threats.

"Africanized honeybee venom is not more painful or voluminous than normal honeybee venom, it's just that many more bees will sting!" Dylan Voeller and James Nieh wrote in an analysis of honeybee aggression for the University of California San Diego.

They said honeybees usually only attack to defend their colony.

"The threshold for stinging response in Africanized honeybees is also much lower; only a minor disturbance such as a slight motion, vibration, or odor is needed," they explained.

While European honeybees send out up to two dozen guard bees in response to a disturbance within 20 feet of the hive, Africanized bees tend to send several hundred guard bees in response to a threat up to 120 feet away, according the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Service at the University of Florida.

Agitated European honeybees often will calm within 10 or 15 minutes. Their Africanized counterparts, however, tend to stay agitated for several hours or until the sun goes down. They also will chase for a longer amount of time and over a greater distance.

"Once Africanized bees have been stimulated, they are also much more likely to respond in group attacks. During such attacks they will sting anything in sight that is moving ...," according to Voeller and Nieh.

'Tis the season

While it's technically still winter - the first official day of spring is Sunday, March 20 - Mother Nature has given us springlike weather for weeks.

March is the time of year when bee activity really starts to pick up. Emily Brown, who runs AZ Queen Bee and is a beekeeper, said the hive might have been disturbed which caused the bees to attack.

"Worker bees can be very defensive, so they can send out pheromones and cause them to be more defensive," Brown said.

She suggests homeowners walk around their properties every couple of weeks to search for hives because bees are extremely productive and fast workers and a hive can expand in a very short period of time.  Also, if you find a hive, call a professional to remove it.

[READ: Does early heat mean longer summer?]

"Springtime is our heavy heavy bee season," Curtis Whalen with Blue Sky Pest Control told us last year.

[RELATED: Hikers asked to use caution, active bees in area (April 13, 2015)]

"If bees do come at you just stay calm; if you're swatting at them and starting to move rapidly you're going to attract more bees," Whalen advised.

And if they do attack?

"Make sure you start running," Walen said.

Riedlinger agreed.

"Don't swat at them; try to run away."

Walen also suggested covering yourself with something to minimize the amount of times you get stung, and get indoors quickly, even if it's your car.

To prevent drawing bees' attention in the first place, don't wear bright colors, cologne or scented sunblock.

"Minimize the things that are going to attract them or annoy them," Whalen said.

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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