Last Sunday afternoon, a man in Las Cruces, New Mexico left his car window down when he made a quick stop into Albertsons supermarket. Just 10 minutes later, he came back to find an unwelcome surprise in his car that had the entire town buzzing. The unnamed man returned to his borrowed Buick in the store parking lot and as he started to drive away noticed a swarm of what turned out to be an estimated 15,000 honey bees in the back seat. The man called the police which resulted in the fire department placing a call to Jesse Johnson. The off-duty firefighter had just finished a family barbecue when he heard that his beekeeping skills were needed.
"Bee Swarm that Invaded Parked Car is Safely Relocated by Off-duty Firefighter," the Las Cruces Police Department posted on their Facebook page Monday. "An off-duty Las Cruces firefighter used his experience as a beekeeper to safely relocate a swarm that invaded a parked car Sunday afternoon."
Jesse Johnson, 37, has been with the fire department for 10 years. In his spare time, he's a beekeeper. His skills came in handy as everyone else in the Albertsons parking lot stood by, unsure how to handle thousands of swarming bees that were taking over the Buick.
"Shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, March 28, Las Cruces firefighters were dispatched to the report of swarm of bees that took temporary residency in a car that had been parked with a window down at the Albertson’s grocery store, 1285 El Paseo Rd." the police department wrote. "Firefighters arrived to find a swarm of bees inside the vehicle. Firefighters learned the owner of the car returned from shopping, placed groceries in his vehicle and started to drive off before noticing the swarm in the backseat. After blocking off the immediate area to ensure the safety of nearby shoppers, Las Cruces firefighters called upon the services of off-duty firefighter Jesse Johnson who, in his spare time, is a beekeeper."
While others were helpless against the overwhelming number of bees, Johnson knew the exact items he needed to solve the problem quickly and was able to lure the bees into an empty hive box treated with lemongrass oil, which mimics the scent of the queen.
"Johnson arrived with the proper tools for the trade – a hive kit, lemongrass oil, gloves and proper attire – and was successful in removing the bees from the car and relocating them to a more suitable location."
The police department estimated that 15,000 bees were removed and relocated to Johnson's property, just outside the city limits, where according to The New York Times, he has four hives and has had as many as twelve. The fire crew stayed on the scene for nearly two hours while Johnson worked his bee magic. As for injuries, a security guard at Albertsons was reportedly stung but no major injuries were reported.
"The Las Cruces Fire Department does not regularly remove bee swarms," continued the police department. "However, to mitigate the mid-afternoon hazard the large swarm presented in a relatively high-traffic area, firefighters determined the best remedy was to have the swarm removed and relocated swiftly."
Commenters on Facebook were amazed by Johnson's skill and heroics.
"My daughter and I were at Albertsons when this was going on," posted one person. "Strange that a swarm took over that fast. Pretty cool looking!"
"Thanks for saving the bees!" wrote another person.
"Lesson learned. Make sure windows are up, cause might be a (bee) flying by searching for a new hive," commented another person.
Johnson told the Times that the bees were likely following the queen to a new location and that they may have come from a parapet, gutter system or home in a nearby neighborhood.
TODAY Food reached out to Albertsons for a comment, but did not hear back.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, bees play an important role in the ecosystem and pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy on our tables. A movement to save the bees has gained traction as environmental stressors have resulted in dwindling bee populations.
But thanks to informed beekeepers like Jesse Johnson, we can hopefully continue to enjoy honey and everything else that these amazing insects provide for many years to come.