Special Report filed by AAF Correspondent: Dan BerryAnimal Attack Files Special Report
from The Orange County Register

      Toddlers stung by fire ants in rare indoor invasion
A Ladera Ranch home is overrun. County can only treat yards.

July 27, 2000

By PAT BRENNAN The Orange County Register-

A St. Louis family that moved into a new south Orange County housing tract only three months ago recently received a rude welcome: Both of their toddlers were stung by fire ants, and one of the children's stings was so severe that he was taken to an emergency room.

Tony McLaughlin, 2, was playing happily Wednesday in the family's newly built home in Ladera Ranch. But last week, he woke up screaming with fire ants on his feet -- the swelling was so bad the next day that his father took him to the hospital.

"I don't want to look at my feet," he said Wednesday, his face momentarily darkening when his father asked him to show a stranger about 15 ant stings on his feet and ankles.

His sister, 13-month-old Kimberly, also suffered 10 to 12 stings on her legs.

"She was standing in front of the TV, with 10 of them crawling on her," the girl's mother, Johanna McLaughlin, recalled Wednesday. "She was stamping her feet trying to shake them off."

The family has been plagued by fire ants, which invaded all the rooms in their house - a rare case of red imported fire ants moving indoors.

The ants, discovered in Trabuco Canyon late in 1998, have spread across 500 square miles of the county; in recent months, the Orange County Fire Ant Authority has been contacting homeowners who phone in complaints and are treating yards to kill the ants.

At the height of the McLaughlins' infestation, which began about a month ago, the carpeting throughout the house was literally crawling with ants, said the children's father, who is also named Tony. The ants were marching across kitchen counters and pouring out from behind bathroom mirrors.

"Everywhere you look, in the carpet, in the sheets - they were just everywhere," he said.

The family considered moving to a hotel until exterminators could clear away the ants, he said. But after treatment of their yard by the Fire Ant Authority on Tuesday, the number of ants indoors dropped dramatically.

Fire ants normally stay outside, said the Fire Ant Authority's Mike Hearst.

"Of hundreds of stinging incidents, this is one of very few involving ants moving inside," Hearst said.

The agency's technicians treat mounds outside homes, but if the ants come indoors, residents are on their own.

Although the family is new to Orange County, the McLaughlins are no strangers to fire ants. They lived in Florida for six years, where the ants were rampant, but never found them in the house.

The elder Tony McLaughlin said he and his family will remain at the house at least until the weekend, when they may call an exterminator.

In the meantime, the family is still a bit jumpy.

"Any little bump in the night now, you wake up and throw off the covers," he said.

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