More than 20 million bees being shipped from Idaho to North Dakota were lost when a tractor trailer carrying the insects tipped onto its side near a nuclear facility.

Firefighters in plastic suits from Idaho National Laboratory responded to the crash on Thursday and sprayed foam fire retardant to disperse the swarming bees, lab spokeswoman Laura Scheele said.

The bees were being shipped to North Dakota to pollinate crops and make honey.

The area where the crash occurred on State Highway 33 is located in the eastern Idaho desert. Nuclear facilities at the 890-square-mile lab site are far from the main road.

Butte County Sheriff Wes Collins said the driver and a passenger in the tractor trailer were not injured and ran to safety when the bees started swarming. Several motorcyclists were stung when they drove past the crash site.

The driver reported swerving to avoid a car. Collins said authorities didn't find evidence to support that account and were continuing to investigate.

Brian Wiggins, co-owner of Idaho-based KatieBee Honey, said the loss represents about 50 percent of his business. He declined to provide a dollar estimate but said it was covered by insurance.

"We lost not only a huge honey crop, but we lost many hives and reproducers," he said. "We'll just go from here and hope for the best."

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Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com