We were sitting at our table eating breakfast and drinking our coffee when suddenly, we heard the familiar sound of a smoke alarm coming from outside our RV. Tom went outside to investigate, and moments later he flung open the door and grabbed the fire extinguisher that we always keep inside the door–our neighbor’s RV was on fire!
Now, fortunately, this was a small fire that thankfully didn’t end in catastrophe. But we learned a lot from that experience about what you should and should NOT do if this happens to you. We want to pass that crucial information on to you so you can act fast in case your neighbor’s RV catches fire.
Be Prepared for Fire
We have to emphasize the importance of being preparing for a fire. With so many moving parts and electrical systems, fire is a severe threat to RVs.
First, ensure you have working smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in each room, including a propane detector in case you experience a leak. Always keep a working fire extinguisher near the door and one near the kitchen. You may only need one if these two areas are nearby. Know where your emergency exits are, including the location of your egress windows.
Furthermore, come up with a plan. If you have children, ensure they know how to exit the RV, dial 911, and where to go for safety. Fire preparedness is never fun to think about, but it’s always worth it.
What’s the Number 1 Cause of RV Fires?
While RV fires can result from various factors, the most common cause is electrical issues. In fact, an electrical short caused the RV fire next to us. A wall screw had penetrated a wire in the wall of the RV in a cabinet.
Fuses in our RV breaker boxes protect from these situations, but the fuse on this circuit was an auto-resetting breaker. This breaker had reset so many times for the entire life of the RV that it eventually failed and stuck closed, allowing the current to continue to pass through the short and heat up. The wood of the cabinetry on the wall started to catch fire.
What to Do If Your Neighbor’s RV Catches Fire
Let’s focus on the critical steps to take if you witness your neighbor’s RV catch fire. Remember that every second counts in a fire emergency.
#1 Call 911 immediately.
Your first and most urgent action should be to call 911. Do not waste any time. Do not assume someone else has already called. Do not wait to see if they can put it out themselves. Even if they do put it out, reignition is very common.
The faster emergency crews can get to the fire, the better. Providing accurate information about the location, including the campground’s name and site number, will help emergency responders reach the scene as quickly as possible. Stay on the line with the operator to provide any updates or additional information they may need.
Cait’s dad is retired fire department chief, and he told us that firefighters would much rather show up to a small fire or no fire than for you to wait with the call. Waiting could mean an even worse fire that’s harder to fight and far more dangerous.
#2 Move Your RV Immediately, If You Can
If your RV is close to the burning RV and you can safely move it, do so immediately. Don’t worry about putting in your slides or packing up, just focus on moving your RV away from the burning RV. RV fires burn very hot, and the heat can damage your RV or even set it ablaze.
Ideally, move in the opposite direction of the wind, but this may not matter. RV fires can get extremely hot, and we have seen RV fires burn down the next door RV from the heat alone. While moving your RV, remember the location of the entrances and exits to the campground and avoid blocking the path of emergency responders.
While our neighbor’s fire was doused quickly, we didn’t think of moving our own RV until sometime after realizing what was happening. We think we could have quickly hitched up and pulled 100 feet away in 5 minutes or less.
#3 Grab Your Fire Extinguisher
Every RV should have a fire extinguisher. If you can, grab your fire extinguisher just in case the fire is still small and manageable. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire and sweep it from side to side. Remember the acronym PASS: Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep from side to side. Only do this from the exterior of the RV if the fire is contained. Never enter a burning vehicle.
- Use to fight basic fires common to the home involving trash,...
- Tough, aluminum valve assembly & easy to pull safety pin
- Lightweight aluminum cylinder with durable, all metal...
Pro Tip: If your fire extinguisher is old, don’t throw it in the garbage. Instead, Here’s What to Do with Your Old RV Fire Extinguisher.
#4 If You Can’t Move Your RV Safely, Get Everyone Out ASAP
In some situations, it may not be safe to move your RV due to the size of the fire, its proximity, and other hazards. In this case, prioritize the safety of yourself and your fellow travelers. Grab your family, your pets, and perhaps a few quick essentials if possible, and immediately evacuate your RV. Move to a safe distance away from the fire, ideally at least 100 feet, or as emergency responders direct you.
#5 Save Lives First and Property Second
When a fire breaks out, your priority should always be saving lives, including your own and those of others in the area. Do not attempt to salvage personal belongings or property at the expense of safety. Material possessions can be replaced, but lives cannot. Ensure that everyone is accounted for and safe before considering any property-related actions. Alert others in the area so they can also get to safety.
What NOT to Do
Sometimes you just don’t think straight when an emergency is happening. Things that are common sense outside of the moment don’t come to mind as quickly during the adrenaline of a fire. Upon reflection, these were things we identified as things you should never do in this circumstance:
- Do not enter a smoking or burning RV.
- Do not wait to call 911, even if the fire seems under control.
- Avoid breathing the smoke. Burning plastics and fiberglass is extremely toxic.
- Do not break or open windows. Adding air flow can make the fire worse.
- Do not stay within 100 feet of the RV. Intense heat and explosions can occur due to their confined spaces and the presence of flammable materials. This includes the engine, gas tank, battery bank, propane tank, and other energy storage aboard the RV.
How to Prevent RV Fires
While knowing how to react in case of an RV fire is crucial, it’s equally important to take proactive steps to prevent them from happening. Understanding the primary causes of RV fires is essential for prevention and preparation. In motorhomes, they can occur in the engine compartment and the electrical system. Faulty wiring, overloaded circuits, and damaged electrical systems are all potential fire starters.
RV propane fridges are a common cause of fire because they have a flame burning in the back. Open and regularly inspect the back of the fridge to make sure no animal, insect or bird nests have built up. Even dried leaves or debris can build up and catch fire.
Conduct regular RV maintenance, including scheduling routine inspections of your RV’s electrical, propane, and fuel systems. Address any issues promptly to prevent potential fire hazards. This includes routine battery maintenance, especially if you have flooded lead-acid batteries. If you have a motorhome, engine maintenance is crucial. The last thing you want is for your engine to catch fire and destroy your home.
Lastly, practice propane safety and smart cooking practices. Be vigilant when cooking inside your RV and keep flammable materials away from the stove. Never leave cooking unattended, and if you’re having a fire outside, put it out before you go to bed.
Pro Tip: Stay safe while RVing. These are the 7 Most Common Causes of RV Fires and How to Prevent Them.
How Often Do Campers Catch Fire?
RV fires are not a daily occurrence, but they happen. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 20,000 RV fires occur annually in the United States. While this number might seem low compared to other types of fires, it’s essential to remember that RV fires can be extremely dangerous and involve multiple explosions.
Most fatal RV fires happen in older RVs because they have fewer safety features and older engines. However, this doesn’t mean new RVs aren’t at risk. Our neighbor’s RV was only about 2-3 years old.
Gain Peace of Mind by Preparing for the Worst
Setting out in your RV can be a fun and freeing experience. The last thing you want is an RV fire to spoil your journey, or worse, take a life. Preparation is key to enjoying your adventure with peace of mind. While the thought of an RV fire can be frightening, knowing how to respond swiftly and effectively can make a difference. Remember to prioritize safety and act quickly in the event of a fire. Additionally, take proactive steps to prevent RV fires by regularly maintaining your vehicle’s systems and following safety recommendations.
By following these guidelines and staying vigilant, you can enjoy your adventure while minimizing the risk of RV fires. Remember, it’s better to be overly cautious and prepared than to be off guard when facing an emergency.
Do you have any emergency preparedness tips? Let us know in the comments below!
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