A couple of years ago I was travelling back home from Hope, B.C. after a lovely camping trip. The weather had been spectacular, and the whole trip had been great. About two hours out from home I got stuck in long weekend gridlock–or so I thought. I couldn’t see what the holdup was, but just ahead, a lot of people were getting out of their cars and craning their necks. Stuck as we were, I figured there was nothing to see, but it was funny, you know? People don’t usually do that in gridlock. They just wait and sweat and swear.
Suddenly, way up ahead, grey-black smoke began to billow up from something on the highway.
Turns out an RV had caught on fire. It had something to do with the propane tanks. Inside of an hour the RV went from someone’s home on wheels to wreckage you couldn’t even identify. I know, because the radio was giving real-time details about it as I drove past. The driver and passengers were okay, fortunately, but it goes to show you just how fast your RV can be gone if you don’t pay attention to fire safety.
Some Facts Everyone Needs to Know
RV fires in North America number in the thousands each year; more than 6000 in the U.S. alone. It is one of the largest causes of motor coach losses in this day and age. Since it can ruin a vacation at best and result in loss of life in a worst case scenario, it makes sense to spend a little time working on RV fire safety before you go on your trip.
Do these things to make your motor home safe and secure:
- Check all fuel lines and connections between the engine and the fuel tank. This should be done on a monthly basis if you use your caravan regularly. If a leak is detected, have the system inspected by a qualified mechanic immediately.
- Check your radiator regularly. The engine manifold can get as hot as 900° F. during some drives, and can cause fires.
- Keep your caravan’s underside clean. Dirt and dust combine with grease for engine build-up. combined with a fuel leak it can cause a fire. It’s more economical to keep it clean in any case because it will run cooler.
- If you don’t have a smoke alarm installed in your RV, do so right away. Escape options are limited in a motor home, so early fire detection can mean the difference between life and death.
- Carry three fire extinguishers in your RV: the one that came already installed by the manufacturer, one in an accessible place in the bedroom, and one in an unlocked storage compartment that you can access from the outside. Keep all three maintained in good working order, checking them over every three months.
- Buy an escape ladder. The escape window of a motor home is often very high off the ground. Dropping down from one can result in injury, especially for the very young or for older people. Get one especially for RV’s at www.moryder.com
Half of All Fires Occur When the RV is stationary.
- Never leave cooking unattended and keep heaters away from your caravan’s internal fittings.
- Extinguish your pilot light before towing.
- Practice opening and closing your RV’s emergency escape window. Some of them can be sticky or tricky to open. When you know how to do so before an emergency arises, it will save valuable time.
Over a third of all RV fires are caused by faulty wiring.
- Shut off your propane at the tank. Driving with it on can increase the chance of explosive combustion. Your food will stay cold for up to 8 hours in a motor coach fridge with the propane turned off.
- Keep extra baking soda in the galley for extinguishing small kitchen fires.
- Never leave a stove on unattended or use it to heat your RV. Propane releases carbon monoxide in dangerous levels.
- Plan your escape before a fire occurs. Run through the plan with your family at regular intervals so everyone knows what to do.
Learning from your mistakes is not the way to go. It is costly, painful and time-consuming. Your wisest plan of action? Learn from the mistakes of others; plan in a way that keeps you from making mistakes. A vacation is a beautiful thing to ruin. You can’t replace your life.
By R. Maxine Lundquist