When you head out on the road with your RV, regardless of the type, you are probably thinking about rest stops and your eventual camping spot. Fire safety probably doesn’t cross your mind. However, fire risk is a real concern with RVs, so you need to be prepared.
According to data published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are nearly 2,000 devastating RV fires every year. An RV fire can start anywhere whether you are on the road or parked.
Being aware of potential fire hazards in your RV and taking steps to mitigate your risk of a fire can go a long way to keeping your RV safe.
Which RVs are most at risk of a fire?
According to a NFPA report on fire hazards associated with RVs, older models of RVs have fewer and less advanced fire safety measures. They also have older engines and equipment that is more likely to fail which is a common cause of RV fires. Most fatal RV fires occur in older models of RVs.
If you own an RV that is more than 10 years old, you should upgrade your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Also ensure your fire extinguishers are adequate for the size of your rig and handy in the kitchen, bedroom, and living areas of the RV. Every year, it’s wise to get a full inspection of your rig to find out about potential problems before they become fire hazards.
While there are a number of things that cause RV fires, doing a few things will help reduce your risk of a disaster. Here are nine fire hazards and what you can do to mitigate them.
1. Malfunctions of the RV electrical system
Many RV fires originate from malfunctions in the RV electrical system. Here is what you can do to lessen the risk of an electrical fire in your RV:
- Make sure any electric space heaters run at their lower wattage setting. Usually, space heaters are set at 1,500/750 watts or 1,200/600 watts. You should only run a space heater at 750 or 600 watts in your RV.
- Always plug your space heater into a wall outlet; never use an extension cord.
- Don’t overload your electrical outlets by plugging too many things in at once. For example, if you plug a space heater into an outlet, you shouldn’t have anythng else plugged in.
Mice, rats, and squirrels love to chew through cable and wire housing in vehicle engine compartments and the RV’s living compartment. If any of these critters have invaded your rig, inspect your wiring for any signs of nibbling and do the necessary repairs immediately.
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Don’t leave small electrial appliances plugged in when you aren’t home.
Inspect your rig’s 12-volt connections before each trip. Loose connections can cause shorts that ignite combustible materials in the RV.
2. Propane system leaks
Propane system leaks are one of the top causes of fire ignition in RVs. It’s important to have your propane system inspected regularly.
In addition to detecting propane gas leaks in your RV, there are a few more ways you can prevent your RV’s propane system from causing a fire.
Never drive your RV with propane on. Everything in your RV is jostled around while you drive. If there is a leak when the propane valve is open, it just takes a spark from a flat tire or the little flame in your RV’s propane fridge to ignite it.
Make sure your RV propane/carbon monoxide detector is working and up-to-date. RV propane/carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every five years.
3. Your RV refrigerator
Your RV refrigerator can be a fire hazard due to manufacturing defects. Dometic and Norcold have both recalled certain models of their RV refrigerators over the years because they could catch on fire. The boiler in absorption RV refrigerators can also overheat and become a fire hazard when the fridge is not kept level.
4. Wheels and brake system
When your RV’s wheels and/or brakes get too hot, they can ignite materials around them. Be sure to check your tire pressure when your tires are cold. Get your wheels and brakes inspected regularly and before long trips.
5. Stuff near your RV cooktop
Having combustible items anywhere near your RV cooktop can lead to disaster. Because RVs are made with far more combustible materials than a traditional home, a fire in the galley can rapidly get out of control.
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Keep combustible items like paper towels, plastic, and wood well away from your cooktop when you are cooking.
Don’t store cooking oils or fats close to your cooktop.
Always stay in the kitchen/galley area when you are cooking and keep an eye on things.
6. Not having a working smoke detector
I know it can be tempting to take the batteries out of your RV smoke detector after it goes off for the tenth time when you are just making toast. Don’t do it. Working smoke detectors really do save lives.
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Test your smoke detector monthly and change the batteries twice a year around daylight savings time.
7. Portable grills and campfires too close to the RV
Portable grills should be at least 12 feet from the RV and campfires should be at least 25 feet away from your RV and any fuel source. This makes setting up a gas or charcoal grill underneath your RV awning a really bad idea.
8. Not having adequate fire extinguishers in your RV
You should have a 2.5 lb fire extinguisher in each area of the RV. A fire extinguisher is required near the doorway of the RV, so manufacturers meet the minimum standard for this. But if there is a fire in the galley of the RV, the extinguisher can either be out of reach or precious seconds are wasted accessing it.
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Fire extinguishers are classed according to the type of burning fuel that is being extinguished. A Class ABC fire extinguisher will put out the types of fires common in RVs. Here are the types of fires that each class extinguishes.
Class A – Ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, rubber, fabric, or plastics.
Class B – Flammable liquids and gasses, including gasoline, oils, paint, lacquer, and tar.
Class C – Fires involving live electrical equipment.
9. Gasoline and propane
Gasoline and propane present an immediate fire hazard when stored incorrectly or when there are leaks or spills. Storing gasoline out of the sun and well away from the RV or tow vehicle is a good idea. Generators should be set up a safe distance from the RV.
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.
Speed was high
Weather was hot
Tires were thin
X marks the spot
—Burma Shave sign