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What to Do (and NOT Do) If Your Neighbor’s RV Catches Fire

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.  

My neighbors’ motorhome caught 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. 

RV post fire
We have sadly seen many RV fires in our time on the road.

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.

RV on fire
Knowing what to do if your neighbor’s RV catches fire can help keep you and others safe.

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.

rv fire damage in campground
In this photo, the RV on the left burned completely. The RV on the right got so hot from the flames that it also burned.

#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. 

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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.

fire extinguisher in RV kitchen
Make sure you always have a fire extinguisher in your RV in case of emergency.

#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. 

Being proactive with RV maintenance can help prevent future fires.

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.

Commonly Missed RV and Vehicle Maintenance Items | Preventing Catastrophic Failure and Breakdowns

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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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Gil Strachan

Wednesday 29th of November 2023

Thanks for the reminders, much appreciated! It's easy to forget safety, and one thing we don't usually think about is an emergency exit strategy. When arriving and setting up at a campsite, I think it's a good idea to look around and thing about how you're going to move your rig in a hurry, if you need to... and how messed up the lane will be, if others start moving their rigs at the same time.

Mortons on the Move

Monday 4th of December 2023

Good idea! And know the address.

Robert

Sunday 15th of October 2023

I would add the following, IF IT CAN BE DONE SAFELY:

1. Shut off the breakers at the pedestal. 2. Shut off and remove the propane tanks. Watch out for any spare propane tanks laying about. (Your neighbors aren't nearly as safety conscious as you are. ;)

Again, only if it can be done safely. One of the biggest risks firefighters face is lung damage from toxic smoke inhalation. Don't risk it. Get away, get upwind, and let the professionals handle it.