The only fire you want at your campsite is in your fire pit. However, you could find yourself with an RV fire if you’re not careful. There are several common causes for RV fires, and many of them you can easily avoid. In our travels, we have unfortunately seen and even put out a few RV fires.
Today, we’ll share several of the most common causes of RV fires and how you can prevent them. Let’s get started!
How Many RV Fires Are There Annually?
The National Fire Protection Association found that from 2008 to 2017 approximately 1,920 RV fires occurred, resulting in 24 deaths yearly. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 4,200 fires occurred between 2018 and 2020.
Unfortunately, with the uptick in RV sales and the popularity of RVing, the number of fires will likely also increase. RVers must take the proper precautions to protect themselves and their RVs from a catastrophic event.
How Long Does It Take for an RV to Burn Down?
Every second counts when it comes to staying safe in an RV fire. An RV can burn to the ground in a matter of minutes. In less than 10 minutes, all that may remain of an RV is a pile of ashes and your memories of the adventures you had in it.
It’s essential for RVers to have certain safety features in their RVs and a clear fire plan.
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.
Does RV Insurance Cover Fires?
RV insurance coverage varies from one plan to the next. However, comprehensive coverage on an RV will typically cover any events beyond your control, including fires. However, claims can get denied if the insurance provider discovers the owner’s actions played any part in it.
When setting up your RV insurance policy, verify all the coverages with your provider. Call to confirm coverage if you’ve already established a policy. It’s better to ask the hard questions now than to be in for a surprise should you need to file a claim.
7 Most Common Causes of RV Fires and How to Prevent Them
While RV fires aren’t widespread, they do have some common causes. Keeping you and your RV safe requires that you know how they can start and how to prevent them. Let’s look at what you can do to stay safe from fires while RVing.
1. RV Propane Refrigerator Fires
While a propane refrigerator in an RV can be useful while RVing, it can also pose a dangerous fire hazard. The reason is that propane fridges have a live flame in the back of them and get very hot. Debris that enters the vents can possibly get into the burner or just lean up against it and catch fire.
In addition several of the major manufacturers of RV propane refrigerators have had issues with the steel boiler tubes cracking. This can cause flammable gasses to leak onto hot parts, which can ignite but this is much less common.
Unfortunately, it can be too late to extinguish the fire by the time you are aware of the situation.
How to Prevent It: The best way to prevent an RV propane refrigerator fire is to inspect and maintain your RV’s refrigerator regularly. You should immediately have it checked if you notice any irregular cooling or smells.
Taking a peak behind the cover on the backside of your refrigerator can make it easy to spot and debris buildup. Birds, bugs and rodents can get into these vents and build nests. Be sure to inspect whenever you pull an RV out of storage before firing up the fridge.
2. Electrical Issues: 12-Volt Connection Shorts and Batteries
Another common cause of RV fires is electrical issues, especially concerning the many connections for the 12-volt electrical system and batteries.
We have seen lead acid RV batteries begin to boil when overcharged then short internally and get extremely hot, catch fire or even explode. We also once put out an electrical fire that was caused by a nail that the manufacturer put through a wire. While a fuse should have protected the circuit the manufacturer used an auto-resetting fuse that eventually failed and shorted out the circuit.
RVs have a lot of electrical in a small space and bouncing down the road increases the likelihood that something will go wrong with it.
How to Prevent It: The best way to prevent these issues is to be aware of your power usage. If you notice any melting smells while using power-hungry devices, stop using them immediately.
Check your batteries regularly to make sure they are not boiling and the connections are tight.
Loose connections will often get extremely hot. Another major sign is feeling heat from any electrical outlets or wiring. Take the time to inspect your connections routinely and ensure they’re tight.
Also never use auto-resetting fuses. These units can reset into a short over and over and eventually fail. If you have a fuse that keeps failing investigate the problem before replacing it. The same applies to 120V breakers. If you are not sure why it tripped or it keeps tripping, investigate the circuit.
3. Propane Gas Leak
While propane can help you stay warm and keep your refrigerator cool, it can be extremely dangerous. Propane is highly flammable and can cause a serious explosion.
All it takes is a spark near a propane gas leak to cause a hazardous situation for you, your RV, and anyone in the surrounding area.
How to Prevent It: A propane leak can develop anywhere in your RV’s propane system. Inspect your system regularly to prevent a leak from causing an RV fire.
Look at your propane lines for any abnormal wear and tear or damage. If you suspect a leak, use a spray bottle with soapy water to spray on the hose or connection and look for air bubbles.
While most RVs have alarms that will activate should they detect a propane leak, you must test these regularly. The best time to test these units is at the beginning and end of each camping season. Check the batteries and the expiration date on the devices.
Immediately shut off your propane supply if you notice a strong odor in your RV. Increase air circulation by opening as many doors and windows as possible. Exit your RV and immediately contact a professional to inspect your propane system.
We also recommend using a safety device inline that will shut off a propane line automatically in the event of a line rupture. In an accident, this could prevent a massive fire! We recommend the Gas Stop screw-on device. It’s easy to use and adds a great layer of safety.
Pro Tip: Make sure you know these Dos and Don’ts of Propane Tank Storage before you head out on the highway.
- 100% PROTECTION - GasStop is a must-have safety device that...
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4. Mechanical Drivetrain Issues in Motorized RVs
Drivable RVs have many more moving parts than towable RVs. These moving parts could cause leaks with fuel or coolant in the engine compartment and can get incredibly hot, causing an RV fire.
Because these often occur while the RV is in motion, it may be too late to extinguish the flames by the time you find a safe place to pull over.
How to Prevent It: The best way to prevent mechanical drivetrain issues in a motorized RV is to keep up the maintenance on the unit. While some issues can occur with little notice, most develop over time. Having a set of eyes from a trained professional looking over your rig can help identify any potential issues.
In addition, carrying a fire extinguisher and having it easily accessible is essential. This can allow you to quickly extinguish flames and minimize the damage to your RV.
Check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher and ensure it’s pressurized properly. If so, it’ll be ready when you need it.
5. Wheel Bearings & Brakes
If you don’t know, friction can generate incredible heat. Wheel bearings have grease in them to help minimize friction and avoid generating heat. However if something goes wron or the grease dries up they can get insanly hot and start fires. In addition, brakes can overheat, especially if they’re sticking or not set appropriately.
In some situations, especially going down long mountain grades or passes, an RV’s brakes can generate enough heat that they ignite.
You may first notice smoke coming from them, but like people say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. You could end up with a ball of fire billowing out of your RV until you find a safe place to stop.
How to Prevent It: Regular maintenance is the best way to prevent an RV fire from wheel bearings and brakes. Get your wheel bearings inspected per the recommendations of your manufacturer.
If you don’t know how to do this, hire a professional. And incorrectly packing your bearings can be equally dangerous as letting them be too dry.
Additionally, regularly inspecting your brakes is a good idea, especially when preparing for a mountain trip. You don’t want to burn through what’s left of your brakes as you drive down a mountain pass.
6. Heating Appliances
RVs are notorious for lacking insulation to keep warm, especially during cold weather camping. Many RVers turn to electric heaters and propane furnaces to keep them warm during these times. While they may keep them warm, they can also create a dangerous situation.
Electric space heaters may not require propane but use a ton of power. While most RVs can handle using a single electric heater, multiple space heaters can put an RV’s electrical system to the test. If there is a loose connection in the system, these power-hungry appliances could cause a fire.
Humans aren’t the only ones seeking warmth when the temperatures start to drop. Rodents and other critters can find their way into a propane exhaust system. A rodent nest near an open flame can cause a fire inside an RV. And if you can’t reach the source of the fire, it could spread.
How to Prevent It: The best way to prevent these RV fires is to keep heaters clean and free of debris. There’s nothing wrong with using a space heater to take the chill out of the air, but you must remain aware and never leave it unattended.
We also recommend installing vent covers on your exhaust vents to prevent rodents and other critters from getting into them. Even if their nests don’t cause a dangerous fire to erupt, the smells created as the materials burn off can be unpleasant. The vent covers are inexpensive and easy to install.
Pro Tip: Stay warm and fire free by investing in one of these Best (and Safest) Space Heaters for RVs.
While you can prepare some incredible meals in an RV kitchen, it can be extremely dangerous. Cooking in an RV means dealing with minimal space and an open flame. If you’re not careful, you could accidentally place something near the open flame or heat source and cause it to ignite.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been RVing or cooking; mistakes can happen. Spilling oil or other flammable substances can cause a fire to occur quickly in an RV.
You have no shortage of fuel for a fire to spread in an RV, and it can very quickly become a serious and dangerous situation.
How to Prevent It: The best way to prevent a fire while cooking is to cook outside of your RV. Additionally, smells and heat generated from cooking will stay outside your RV, and you won’t have to worry nearly as much about an RV fire.
If you do cook inside you’ll want to minimize distractions while cooking in your RV kitchen. Finally, keep your counters clear, so you have plenty of space to work with when preparing and serving meals with gas stoves. Limit what items you place near any open flames.
We also recommend using induction cooktops if electricity is avaible. Inuction reduces the waste heat enormously and decreases the likleyhood of accidently igniting something.
How Do You Stop an RV Fire?
Unfortunately, once an RV fire gets going, it’s nearly impossible to stop, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You also need to have multiple fire extinguishers on board and know how to use them. If you have never used a fire extinguisher before we always recommend doing a practice session on a ctontrolled fire with an old unit to get comfortable with it.
First, immediately call 911. Its easy to get caught up in the hype of trying to put the fire out, but stop and call or have someone else call first.
After you make the call grab and start using a fire extinguisher to prevent the flames from spreading throughout the rig. However, you need to know your limitations and vacate the RV before it’s too late.
Depending on where the fire occurs, it can take time for firefighters to arrive on the scene. An RV will likely be fully engulfed in flames when they arrive. They’ll likely put their efforts toward preventing the fire from spreading.
We once helped put out our neighbors electrical fire and used our fire extinguisher because they didnt know where theirs was. They are inexpensive compared to the money they could save you in a fire.
What to Do If You Have an RV Fire?
It’s important to know what to do should you be unfortunate enough to experience an RV fire. How you respond in the seconds after the fire ignites is important. Time is of the essence, and you don’t want to waste a single second. Let’s look at what you should do if you have an RV fire.
Get All Humans and Pets Out of the RV
The first thing you should do is to get all of the humans and pets out of the RV. You likely won’t have time to dig through your RV and rescue material possessions. If you have important documents or sentimental items, store them in a fireproof safe if possible.
While you can’t replace sentimental items, you can easily replace most material possessions. Never risk your life to save items you can easily replace.
Inhaling excessive amounts of smoke can be very dangerous, and you could get burns from the heat.
Call 911 from a Safe Distance Away
Once everyone is out of the RV, you should immediately call 911 and remain a safe distance away from the RV.
Anyone around the area will likely hear the commotion, but always alert others near you of the situation. It may give them time to move their rig or rescue important items should the fire spread to their vehicle.
Make sure you communicate your location clearly when on the phone with 911, especially if you’re boondocking or in an unfamiliar area. This can be critical and make it easy for rescue workers to get to you.
Don’t Go Back in a Burning RV to Retrieve Anything
Under no circumstances should anyone go back into a burning RV to retrieve anything. RV fires can spread incredibly fast, and the situation can change in seconds.
While you may feel tempted to rescue sentimental things or other items of value, it’s not worth the risk. The only individuals who should enter the RV are trained professionals wearing protective gear.
How Many Smoke Detectors Should You Have in an RV?
You can never have too many smoke detectors in an RV. How many smoke detectors you need will depend on the rig size. A larger RV may require two to three smoke detectors spread throughout, while a smaller RV may only need one.
You must ensure all of the smoke detectors work. While you should replace the batteries at the start of every camping season, you can never test them too much. Testing them takes a few seconds but could make the difference between life and death should you experience an RV fire.
Have you ever witnessed an RV fire? Share your story in the comments!
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