Forest fire smoke

Hi all. We have had a forest fire burning here for ove a month now and we wake up to a heavy blanket of smoke every morning and by 10 am or so it starts to clear off but the air smells of wood smoke to various degrees 24/7. We did a hive inspection before the fire & identified & marked 2 frames to harvest in a month or so. We went into the hive yesterday and our bee population has dropped dramatically and they have been eating their honey stores
The brood frames looked good but the honey frames have us worried. Is all the constant smoke to blame? And what can we do?

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Is it possible they have swarmed? Did you look for and/or see any queen cells?

Hi Jack. We found the queen and she appears to be doing fine and the hive looks healthy no pests etc
Our main concern is there is very little foraging taking place. We are feeding them sugar water again and they are eating their honey stores At this rate they won’t have anything for winter They wintered very well last winter and we were so looking forward to our first honey harvest

The reason I asked if the hive had swarmed was you mentioned that bee numbers are way down- and honey stores are low. This is what you might see after a swarm. How long was it between inspections? If you saw a queen- that could be a new queen that the bees made when/if they swarmed. Was she a marked queen? you might expect to see a new queen in a hive just a week perhaps after a swarm. So seeing a queen is no guarantee that it was the original queen.

If the hive has swarmed- then maybe this year you won’t get any honey as the numbers will be right down. This happened to my best hive this year. I know it swarmed because I was lucky enough to see it happen- by pure chance I walked out just as all the bees left the hive.

If you don’t plan to harvest honey this year now- and are worried about winter- maybe feeding them over the next months will be a good idea.

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Thanks Jack. It has been a month since we checked the hive. We checked it just before the forest fire started June 1. When there is heavy smoke in th3 air for a prolonged period of time do they tend to swarm ?
I’m afraid that may have happened
I’m going to get back in there next weekend and see if the queen is the marked one I didn’t see her but Hubby said he did

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Hi there @Gross6827 - sorry to hear about the forest fire so close to you, must be pretty scary! About your bees, the reason bee keepers use a smoker is that when they smell smoke, bees will leave off whatever they were doing (crawling inconveniently on hive box edges, flying up at you during inspections, etc) and go into the hive and eat honey. As you observed, that’s what your remaining population is doing - in preparation for the potential need to abscond. In your case, this could be a real need, if the fire comes closer.

About your population, I quoted you to mark the length of time your hive went without you looking in. It’s a long time, and far too long for springtime - @Semaphore is right, your hive probably swarmed some time ago. Please do yourself a favor and get some more understanding of bees, their behavior and their life cycle - there’s loads of knowledge & wisdom here, and even better, among local beeks who may have special procedures to share with you to do with your climate and conditions in Durango.

Let us know how your colony does to rebuild itself - you’ll have to keep a close watch to make sure it is healthy & strong for winter. And please stay safe out there!


The smoke is a part of what has happened, bees when smoked eat honey. But also the forest fires will have destroyed a lot of the forest and effected the foraging potential that the bees would otherwise have available to them.
if it is really bad you might have to feed the bees as you would in a dearth.
The advise from @Eva and @Semaphore is worth re-reading. A month between hive inspections is too long for you to keep on top of events, a lot can happen in that time to go wrong.

The forest fire will not affect them unless the smoke is so think they can’t breath or the heat is so high the wax melts. The idea that they consume honey in preparation for fleeing is an obvious myth. If you ever tried to smoke them out of tree or other location you would find they NEVER leave no matter how much smoke. If you open a lot of hives with and without smoke you’ll see the same number of bees with their heads in cells either way.

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I have heard this before but have not been able to find where I heard/read it. Have you a link or source?

I tried “smoking them out” of a cable drum. That was easier said than done. I came to the conclusion that “smoking them out” is a myth.

For some reason smoke does make bees gorge honey, I discovered that the act of us interfering with their hive without smoke also makes them gorge honey.

In the natural world it could be something to do with gorging the honey so they have the resources to repair & or rebuild with after a bear attack, for example.

Or it could simply be a matter of conserving as much honey as possible by gorging on it.

The bees may relate smoke to heat which could melt the wax causing their honey to flow away. It would make sense that the bees would gorge as much honey as they can to conserve it.


When I get really scared, I eat too much as well… :blush:


I have wondered about this as well- it seems to make sense that the bees would gorge in preparation for fleeing- but then on the other hand as we have all seen- when you smoke them the bees work their way deeper into the hive and just eat honey. You don’t see them preparing to flee after that.

I just did some googling and found the following:

" It appears that the innate behaviour of honeybees to imbibe honey in the presence of smoke has survival value in that it allows the eventual escape by migrating from a devastated landscape after the fire has passed. "


I was reading this before we are doing some property work and my husband is afraid smoke from a small fire will affect the bees and make them swarm. They are probably at least 200 feet away or more and it’s a small fire maybe a foot tall. Will this make my bees swarm?

I think you mean abscond, not swarm. I’m very interested in this because we live close to bush and we received a letter some time ago that the area is designated for a prescribed burn.

I had bush fires within about 100 to 150 yard of my apiary and smoke in the air for 3 days. None of the hives absconded but they were noticeably less active over that time. The fire was from ground level up to the tree tops. Anxious time for me but a lot less both to the bees. My bee foraging area was about 40% burnt out and with 35 hives at my apiary I decided to feed feed hive if they were down on nectar.

No the bees wont swarm or abscond. Would it be possible to light the fire while the wind is blowing in the other direction? Anyway it wouldn’t matter, the smoke from a fire that you describe wont make the bees abscond.