CHARLESTOWN — Fire damaged a Riverview Drive home Tuesday night when a wasp nest recently built inside a wall was ignited by heat from a wood stove pipe, fire officials said.

"There fortunately were no living wasps when we discovered it, so we did not have to combat the bees or avoid being stung," said Don Rathbone, Charlestown-Richmond fire chief. "The nest was pretty well charred when we first opened the wall, and we didn't know what we were dealing with until it was opened up to reveal it was a wasp nest."

Firefighters with the Charlestown-Richmond Fire Department and Cross' Mills Fire Department, assisted by members of the Carolina and Hope Valley-Wyoming fire departments, were called to the home at 50 Riverview Drive around 10 p.m. after residents reported an unusual amount of smoke emanating from near their chimney. The Charlestown police and members of the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Service also assisted.

The first responders used a thermal imaging camera and found a small fire in the wall housing the stove pipe chimney. Firefighters took apart a portion of the wall and used a pressured fire extinguisher to combat the flames, then finished the job with a hose and doused smoldering wood. Officials said the wall was damaged but the house's structure was not compromised.

Firefighters were on scene for about an hour.

Once the fire was out, Rathbone said firefighters found a charred object that, when opened, revealed the nest. He said the wasps likely gained access through a tiny crack or hole the roof line or attic of the raised ranch, and built the papery nest next to the stovepipe.

Rathbone said the house has an electric heating system and that the residents hadn't used the stove in several months. They lit it Tuesday because of the recent cold and damp weather.

Insect-related fires of this sort are more common than people realize, but are not often seen within the wall itself, Rathbone said. He said he had a similar experience himself when bees built a nest in his stove flue, causing a fire that was contained within the flue and quickly extinguished.

In this instance, Rathbone said early notification helped to limit damage. There were no injuries, he said, and residents were not displaced. Damage was confined to the wood stove and adjacent wall and should be repairable.

"The woman who called told us, 'It's a good thing I hadn't gone to bed,' and she's right," he said. "If there weren't awake to report it, who knows how far the fire would have spread before we were notified."

jvallee@thewestelrysun.com

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