The Real Dangers of Camping in an RV Park or Campground

Sure, you’ve thought about theft and petty crimes but there are other dangers of camping in an RV park or campground you probably haven’t considered. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe.

We know that it’s important to be on the alert for petty crimes and should lock our doors and windows. But have you considered the more subtle but real dangers of camping in an RV park or campground?

I’m talking about fire-starting, stomach-upsetting, water-logged dangers that too many campers often overlook.

In this post I’ll discuss five real dangers to be aware of. Then, you’ll know what to look for and what questions to ask when booking your next camping site.

PLUS, at the end, I’ll link to other articles on staying safe while enjoying the RV lifestyle.

CreekFire RV Resort, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, some of these dangers are more prevalent in different parts of the country. You’re not likely to encounter tropical storms or hurricanes in South Dakota, for instance. However, I’m sure you can apply the wisdom of each danger to whatever location you’re traveling to.

The point of this article is not to scare you but to PREPARE you for less-obvious dangers you may not have considered. I LOVE camping and think everyone can and should enjoy it too.

So, whether you’re a solo traveler, a senior, a young newbie, or a family with a gaggle of kids, don’t let these dangers deter you from camping. Just consider them and how best to prepare for them as necessary.

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bad electrical

Unfortunately, it’s far too common for electrical hookups not to be properly maintained. RV parks that are under poor management or laissez-fair attitude often delay electrical maintenance and repair.

That leaves RVers at risk of using a faulty outlet and two big dangers. The first big (and costly) danger is a power surge that fries your electrical system. 

The second big danger of bad electrical is FIRE! It’s no surprise that sparks or surges of electricity can catch your RV on fire. It’s important to know your RV fire safety.

That’s why I recommend you always inspect your electrical connection before you plug in. Does it look badly unmaintained? Do you see any exposed wires? If it’s scary-looking, you probably should be concerned.

I also recommend you always use an Electric Management System like the units available from Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard.

Dakota Campground, Mitchell, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Unclean water

Living in the U. S. and Canada, we often take safe drinking water for granted. In many of our homes, we can drink straight from the tap. But that doesn’t mean we can do the same while camping.

Flint, Michigan has certainly served as a warning to all Americans that we should think twice before blindly trusting any water spout.

Unclean water is one of the top unseen dangers of camping and should be taken seriously. Do you really want to chance ruining your trip with a sick stomach at the very least (or possibly far worse)? 

I suggest always using a water filter for your RV.

Whispering Oaks RV Park, Weimar, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bad site location for flooding

This camping danger applies to campground locations as well as individual campsites. You can unwittingly park in a flood zone and not be properly prepared if a storm hits. 

Granted, this isn’t usually a year-round risk. However, at the very least, you want to be aware of the possible necessity to pack up and move if a big storm is headed your way.

It’s important to learn flood basics and note where your campsite is in relation to:

  • Rivers and streams
  • Mountains and steep hills
  • Rocky and shallow clay soils

Note that notably dry locations like Arizona are not immune to flooding! In fact, they can be more at risk of flash floods. So, take heavy rains seriously wherever you’re camping. 

Be sure to check that out Flash Floods: Safety Tips for RVers.

Leaf Verde RV Park, Buckeye, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Unsafe neighborhoods

RV park websites can paint a picturesque setting that may be located in an unsafe neighborhood. Theft and violent crimes may prevail in the area and you’d have no idea until you drive through and get that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

While RV parks and campgrounds are generally very safe, you should always be aware of your surroundings. And you do need to take extra precautions whenever parking overnight at truck stops, Walmarts, or other lot-docking locations.

You can easily research local crime in the area online. SpotCrime.com is one such helpful resource you can use to search by address or state. For more peace of mind wherever you travel, you can install an RV security system.

But please be assured that theft isn’t as common at RV parks as one might think and violent crimes are even rarer. So, be aware, but don’t be scared!

RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino, Corning, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Unstaffed RV park office

You might think of an unstaffed RV park office as an inconvenience but it also poses a safety risk. An unstaffed RV park or campground is also more at risk of crime since it’s not being monitored 24/7.

Having someone familiar with the campground and nearby area can be vitally helpful in an emergency. This is especially true if you’re a solo RVer. 

Regardless of whether RV park or campground staff is available at all times, I do have a life-saving recommendation for you! 

Always keep the campground address and your campsite number within reach, like on a post-it on your fridge. Plus, the name and address of the nearest hospital! Having this info at your fingertips can save precious time when trying to get emergency services to your location.

Grandma’s RV Camping, Elizabethtown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional safety concerns while RVing

The above are common dangers of camping wherever you travel but there is one more safety issue I want to leave you with.

Fire safety

Fire represents a risk that RVers need to keep top of mind. An RV fire can spread in a fast and furious manner leading to devastating damage, injury, and even loss of life.

RVs have numerous potential sources of fires—RV refrigerators, propane appliances, space heaters, washers and driers, gasoline or diesel engines, and electrical wiring that take a beating when traveling on less-than-ideal highways. So, every RV owner needs to develop a safety plan that covers how to deal with a fire.

I have a few helpful articles on developing a plan to deal with RV fires:

And finally the Safety List For when your RV is Parked.

Worth Pondering…

Take care of yourself. You’ll find it hard to get a replacement.

RV Fire Safety

Fire can consume an RV in a matter of minutes. Having a plan and the proper tools to deal with a fire can save your RV—and your life.

Man’s quest for fire has been around since the beginning of time and fire can be a good thing. It can be used to cook food, heat your living space, and add a bit of ambience to a living space or a campsite. However, fire represents a risk that RVers need to keep top of mind. An RV fire can spread in a fast and furious manner leading to devastating damage, injury, and even loss of life.

RVs have numerous potential sources of fires—RV refrigerators, propane appliances, space heaters, washers and driers, gasoline or diesel engines, and electrical wiring that take a beating when traveling on less-than-ideal highways. So, every RV owner needs to develop a safety plan that covers how to deal with a fire. This involves fire extinguishers as well as the necessary detection devices and an escape plan.

Space heaters are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your first decision

If a fire breaks out, you’ll be faced with an important and immediate decision: Fight or flight. Do you stay and try to put out the fire or do you get out and wait for the fire department? Your safety and that of your loved ones should always be your highest priority. You can replace your RV and the stuff in it but you can’t replace someone’s life. And it’s important to know that the most common cause of death in a fire is not from the flames but from the smoke and the toxins created by burning material—especially the synthetic material common in today’s RVs.

Since it’s a natural reaction to want to try to douse a flame a bit of forethought can help you make the best decision when you’re under pressure and the clock is ticking. It may be possible to handle a small fire with an extinguisher but if the fire is larger or if the fire prevents you from accessing an extinguisher, it’s time to exit the RV.

A smoke alarm can save your life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creating and practicing an escape plan is crucial. Smoke and heat build up fast during a fire, so it’s vital to know where the exits are. Practice getting to them so it becomes second nature. Exiting via the entry door is the ideal choice and some newer Class A motorhomes offer emergency egress doors. Still, you may need to go out through one of the emergency exit windows. However, these may not be as simple as they seem. Getting to them—and getting through them—can be a challenge. This is something you should practice because you won’t have time to figure it out during an actual fire.

Open the exit windows a couple of times a year to make sure they still function properly. It’s best to go out through the window feet first and belly down. The drop to the ground can be long. Some people move a picnic table next to the emergency window to lessen the distance.

Remember, time is not on your side in an emergency.

RV refrigerators are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire Basics

At its core, fire is a rapid chemical reaction that requires three key elements: fuel, oxygen, and heat, sometimes referred to as the fire triangle. If you remove any one of these elements, the fire cannot be sustained.

>> Related article: 10 RV Fire Dangers and How to Avoid Them

RVs contain an overabundance of fuel sources. They are made with large amounts of wood and composite materials that use extensive amounts of glues and insulating foams. They also have plenty of wiring which has flammable insulation and most have propane on board and—in the case of motorhomes—gasoline or diesel fuel. Of course, oxygen is readily available in the air, so all that’s needed to complete the fire triangle is heat.

Materials that serve as fuel need to be raised only to their combustible temperature for ignition to occur. An electrical short can create intense heat in a wire which can burn insulation or ignite surrounding material such as wood paneling or foam insulation. A loose connection can also throw sparks that ignite fuels. Gases or flammable liquids that reach open flames or hot surfaces can flash and ignite.

Space heaters are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire classifications

RVs are required to be equipped with a fire extinguisher, per National Fire Protection Association code. However, it only needs to meet the minimum requirements. So, fire extinguishers that come with RVs tend to be undersized and may not be equal to the task. While all fires may seem the same, they are not. Fires fall into three different classifications:

  • Class A fires use solid combustible fuels (other than metals) such as wood, paper, fabric, and plastics. Class A fires leave behind ash so think of the word ash to help remember what a Class A fire is. To extinguish a Class A fire, you can either separate it from its oxygen source or cool it to below its flash point. This is the easiest fire to extinguish and water works well because it cools the material below its combustible temperature.
  • Class B fires involve flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, diesel fuel, and alcohol. Liquids boil so think of the word boil to remember what Class B fires are. These fires cannot be extinguished with water because the liquid fuel floats on the surface of the water and spreads to other areas making the situation worse.
  • Class C electrical fires are caused by energized circuits. If the circuit is live consider it a Class C fire. Note that the wire itself doesn’t burn but the insulation and things surrounding it do. Electrical wires conduct current so associate the word current with a Class C fire. Using a water-type extinguisher on a Class C fire can create an electrical shock hazard. Once the circuit is de-energized, however, you can treat it as a Class A fire.
RVs contain an abundance of potential fuel sources © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire extinguisher ratings

Fire extinguishers are rated by an alphanumeric system. The letter stands for the fire classification(s) that the extinguisher is rated to handle while the number in front of the letter indicates how large of a fire it is designed to handle. The number preceding the letter A is a water equivalency rating with each A equal to the effectiveness of using 1¼ gallons of water. As an example, an extinguisher with a 2A label is rated as effective as using 2½ gallons of water on Class A fires.

>> Related article: Safety Dance

Class B and C extinguishers also have a number but it represents the square footage that the extinguisher is designed to handle. For example, an extinguisher with a 10B:C label is an extinguisher designed to handle Class B or C fires up to 10 square feet in size. It’s common to combine labels on a single extinguisher such as 2A10BC. Obviously, the larger the number, the better equipped you’ll be. You don’t want to run out of fire retardant before the fire is extinguished.

A smoke alarm can save your life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smoke alarms

An effective warning system can save your RV—or save your life.

With large RVs, it may take a while for smoke to travel from one end to the other. Therefore, it’s important to have multiple smoke alarms within the unit—one in the front and one in the back. Don’t place one too close to the cooking area, however, or you may be setting it off every time you burn the toast.

Smoke rises, so smoke alarms need to be mounted on or near the ceiling. Smoke alarms utilize either ionization or photoelectric sensing technologies. Ionization alarms are more responsive to flaming fires, whereas photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to smoldering fires. Each type works best in different situations. Fortunately, manufacturers make smoke alarms that incorporate both sensors in one unit.

Space heaters are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other alarms

If an RV develops a leak in a propane line or an appliance, highly flammable gas can build up. Since propane is heavier than air, it settles near the ground where it can creep along waiting for a pilot light or spark to ignite it. That is why propane gas alarms are mounted on an interior wall close to the floor.

>> Related article: 9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a byproduct of combustion and can come from fire, a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger, an exhaust system, or the exhaust from an auxiliary generator—yours or a nearby neighbor. CO is slightly lighter than air but doesn’t rise to the ceiling the way smoke does so CO alarms usually should be mounted mid-wall. Some manufacturers now offer combination alarms, either propane and CO alarm or smoke and CO alarm. The combination propane and CO alarms generally are located beneath the refrigerator which is perfect for detecting propane but may not be as effective for detecting carbon monoxide. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the best location to place the alarm.

Since people are most vulnerable to the effects of CO poisoning while sleeping, it’s a good idea to have a detector near the bedroom.

Some CO alarms feature a digital LCD display that shows how much CO gas has accumulated. As little as 250 parts per million over an eight-hour period can be fatal, so a good alarm adds up the accumulative amounts, while less expensive models sound an alert only if a large amount of CO is present at one time.

CO and propane alarms become less effective over time, so these alarms should be replaced every 10 or so years, or as indicated in the user’s manual. The date of manufacture is stamped on the device.

How will you exit your RV in an emergency? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Proper preparation

Without a doubt, the most important factor when dealing with a fire is a calm mind. In an emergency, the mind always reverts to preparation, so rehearse what to do under any given situation. Discuss and practice how to deal with a particular fire and whether to fight it or exit the RV. Practice each escape route and method.

Outfit the RV with an adequate number of and the right type of fire extinguishers knowing that the one small dry chemical unit that came with the RV probably won’t be enough. The same holds true for warning devices. Smoke, propane, and carbon monoxide alarms need to be properly located in order to be effective.

>> Related article: Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

Oxygen, heat, and fuel are the three elements that must be present to support combustion. Eliminate one to extinguish a fire.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

10 RV Fire Dangers and How to Avoid Them

In this article, I cover the most common reasons that RVs catch fire and what you can do to prevent it

Modern campers are designed to be quite safe but RV fire dangers still exist. Something can always go wrong. For example, if the wrong piece breaks or you don’t take the necessary precautions, a fire can start inside your RV. This is dangerous to you, your possessions, and the vehicle itself. RV fire dangers should be prevented at all costs. 

In order to decrease the chance of explosive situations, it’s best to plan ahead. For instance, you can purchase and install smoke detectors throughout your RV. This will give the earliest possible warning if something goes wrong. Additionally, you can study your RV appliance manuals.

Learn how to safely install them and avoid dangerous setups that might start an RV fire. 

As long as you’re careful and follow a good RV maintenance schedule, you should be able to minimize RV fire dangers. At the very least, you’ll be better equipped to deal with a fire. Use common sense as well and keep flammable objects away from hot items and unplug electrical devices when you’re not using them. 

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. RV propane leaks

One of the biggest fire dangers in an RV is the propane system. Most RVs have a heating system that’s powered by propane plus additional appliances that use this type of fuel. Although using propane is usually quite safe, a leak can be disastrous. A single spark can send the entire vehicle up in flames.

>> Related article: Safety Dance

To prevent propane leaks, make sure you have a propane/LP gas detector installed in your RV. Sometimes you might be able to smell the leak but by this point the damage is usually done. It’s better to have an advance warning system so you can get to safety.

Additionally, you should have your propane tanks inspected at least once per year. Keep them well-sealed when they’re not in use. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Unattended electric space heaters

Lots of RVers supplement their heating system with an electric space heater or two. These heaters can keep your vehicle warm when the temperature drops. However, it is an extra heat source and it’s definitely one of the top RV fire dangers you will face. 

There are numerous space heaters to choose between and some are safer than others. Most models come with safety features so they will automatically turn off if they get too hot or are knocked over. Do not use outdated models without these features.

In addition, be careful where you set up a heater within your RV. Make sure it’s not close to any curtains, paper, or other flammable materials. 

RV refrigerator and microwave © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Loose items near the RV stove/oven

Speaking of heat sources, take a close look at your kitchen setup. RV kitchens tend to be a bit small and crowded. You only have a limited amount of space for all your appliances, ingredients, and utensils. 

Unfortunately, a crowded, small RV kitchen can lead to disaster. Do everything you can to keep your stove top clear. These surfaces can easily start a blaze if a loose towel or cord touches them. Unplug and store all your electrical appliances when they’re not in use. Try to keep the cords tucked away. 

>> Related article: 9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Of course, you should also practice safe kitchen practices. Don’t leave the stove unattended. Keep the surfaces as clean and uncluttered as possible. 

Be aware of fire risks outside the RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. RV grills and campfires

Fire dangers often come from inside the RV but sometimes the bigger risk comes from the outside. RV grills and campfires aren’t usually a problem especially if you’re careful. But they can create a fire hazard. 

Keep campfires at least 25 feet away from your vehicle. Sparks and embers might still fly up but they usually won’t cause a problem from that distance. Keep your gas cap firmly closed. Protect your propane tanks and any spare gasoline you might have on hand. 

The same precautions apply to portable camping grills. It might be tempting to cook underneath your RV awning but the smoke, grease, and heat can create dangerous conditions. 

Check the undercarriage for potential problems © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Loose undercarriage wires

There are numerous fire dangers that are clearly visible but sometimes danger lurks below. RV undercarriages can sometimes become damaged without us realizing it especially if we travel on particularly rough roads. An underbelly that been scraped or otherwise damaged presents an increased fire risk.

Loose wires and fuel lines might come into contact with heated engine parts and begin to melt. This is incredibly dangerous because you may not even be unaware of the problem. 

To address this issue, crawl under your RV and check for any loose wires, mechanical parts, or fuel lines that may be damaged. Secure anything that’s hanging down and check for any mysterious leaks or smells. Keep a fire extinguisher in the RV just in case a spark flares up.

Be ware of tire safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. RV dryer lint

Not every RV has a washer and dryer on board but those that do are at a greater risk of catching fire. RV dryers in particular are dangerous because of the heat they produce. If you aren’t diligent about cleaning the lint trap and the various vents, shedding fabric can catch fire. 

>> Related article: Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

Make sure you always empty the lint trap of your dryer before you start a new load even if you don’t feel like there’s much buildup. Also pay attention to the temperature of the dryer once a load finishes. If it feels unusually warm or has a burning smell, call a tech to check it out. 

A place for everything © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. RV electrical system problems

There are a variety of reasons why an RV electrical system might develop issues. If things start to go wrong with the wiring, it’s easy for a stray spark to start a fire. 

Be proactive and don’t use a ton of different appliances at the same time. Crowding outlets can lead to trouble. Unplug appliances as soon as you’re finished using them and avoid using extension cords. 

Inspect your RV walls and wiring for signs of rodent damage. If these little critters start nibbling on the wires, the whole system could go down. Rodents are also one of the top fire dangers for RVs. 

Finally, check your RV’s 12-volt connections/hookups. Loose connections can lead to a spark which can cause a fire. 

8. RV refrigerator malfunction

It seems a bit strange that an RV refrigerator could cause a fire but it does happen. Check to see if your model has been recalled.

Clean your RV vents on a regular basis to prevent dust buildup. If air movement becomes blocked the refrigerator can become overheated. In addition, keep your refrigerator as level as possible especially if you have an RV absorption refrigerator. These have boilers that can easily overheat if they’re tilted to the wrong angle. 

Don’t overlook the RV tires, wheels, and breaks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. RV wheels and brakes

Don’t overlook the mechanical parts of your RV as well. When you’re traveling at high speeds with a heavy vehicle, things can heat up very quickly. RV brakes and wheels take on a lot of the stress. They need to be kept in great condition.

Follow an RV maintenance schedule to rotate your wheels and repair/replace the brakes as needed. 

Careless use of space heaters is a major cause of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Deep-cell batteries

Finally, make sure you maintain and replace your RV batteries on a regular basis. If the battery acid boils away, it can overheat and catch fire. Batteries have even been known to explode. Check the fluid level of all deep-cell batteries monthly and add distilled water as required.

>> Related article: 16 Must-Have RV Accessories

In conclusion

Although we hope it never happens, we should always be prepared for the worst. By being diligent, properly maintaining our RVs, and practicing cooking safety, we can reduce the risk. Since we can’t completely eliminate it, planning ahead and practicing evacuation can ensure the whole family stays safe.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign