I am an avid RV enthusiast who understands that my life and my safety depend on the condition of my coach's equipment.
My former husband (now deceased) was a professional firefighter who also traveled with me for many years in a recreational vehicle. He not only taught me about the causes of RV fires but also how to guard against them and how to escape from a travel unit if one should start.
There are four key points to remember when it comes to dealing with this issue.
- Understand the causes of fires.
- Inspect your coach regularly for potential problems and deal with them as needed.
- Make sure you have protective firefighting equipment on board.
- Learn what you need to do to save your life in the event of an RV fire.
Recreational vehicle owners should never assume they are safe from this hazard. Fire can happen to anybody at any time given the right circumstances and is one of the main causes of loss of property and life for RVers.
What Happens When an RV Fire Occurs?
Since an average RV has only about 400 square feet of living area and holds plenty of flammable material, any fire that starts can spread quickly. In fact, it can take just 20 to 30 seconds for a fire to become something travelers need to escape.
In an accident, a fire can start anywhere and be completely destructive, so it pays to know what you need to do if your recreational vehicle catches fire.
The 6 Most Common Causes of RV Fires
There are approximately 6,000 fires in motor homes, campers and travel trailers every year. Some you can guard against, while others occur with no warning.
Here is a list of the most common causes of recreational vehicle fires along with information about what you can do to prevent them or at least protect yourself from them if they occur in your coach.
1. Propane Leaks
RV refrigerators, furnaces, ovens and stove tops use propane gas in order to function. Since propane is highly flammable, it doesn’t take much for it to cause a fire. This usually happens because of leaks in appliances or gas lines.
By checking these items regularly, you can find and address problems before they become major hazards.
- Brush gas lines with soapy water. If you see bubbles anywhere, you have leaks and should immediately close off the lines until they can be repaired.
- If you smell propane inside your coach, check the stovetops to make sure pilot lights are lit, and check the ovens to make sure they’ve been properly turned off. If these two items are your culprits, air out your coach and then light your stovetop pilot light.
If none of these issues appear to be the problem, open all windows and doors, exit your coach, turn off the gas at the canister, and call an RV repair shop.
You should always keep updated gas leak detectors on board. If a leak is bad enough, it will give off a loud warning signal. If a fire does start, your smoke detector will sound an alarm as well. If you hear these alarms, it is time to evacuate. To do otherwise could cost you your life!
2. Leaking Fuel and Fluid Lines in Engines
All motor-home engines leak fuel and fluids, but diesels do so more often and thus are more prone to catch fire. The best way to protect against this problem in diesel motor homes is to
- check your engine compartment regularly
- have it professionally cleaned often and
- install a fire suppression system within your engine compartment.
The suppression system activates itself when the engine overheats, and it can extinguish a fire quickly. I have installed this particular unit in diesel motor homes I’ve owned as a precaution but fortunately never had to use it, probably because my husband always checked and maintained our engine compartments regularly.
However, knowing the level of protection it would give in the event of an engine fire made my husband and me feel that it was worth the investment because it could potentially save us the cost of a motor home (and possibly our lives).
This article gives more details about these systems, and you should take the time to read it before deciding whether you want to install an engine suppression system in your coach.
3. Wheels, Tires and Brakes
Over time, wheel bearings can dry up. When they do, they cause friction that can lead to fires. Regularly lubricating wheel bearings, especially in pull trailers, is the best way to eliminate any chance of this issue causing a fire.
Tires that are not properly maintained can be the cause of blowouts. These can lead to accidents and/or flying debris that cause RVs to catch fire. The Best Ways to Buy, Maintain and Safely Use RV Tires provides detailed information that will show you how to take care of your tires so that you can avoid these types of problems but you should always make it a point to
- make sure tires aren’t too old,
- check air pressure regularly,
- make sure all tires are the same size and brand and
- take steps to protect the integrity of your tires.
Also, if you forget to release your brakes and then drive your vehicle, the overheated rubber can catch your coach on fire. Normally you will smell the hot rubber and will have time to correct your mistakes, but if not, you could be asking for trouble.
4. Faulty Wiring
It takes many electrical wires to run various appliances in a coach. As they age, they become brittle and can crack.
When this happens, they can start fires. However, you usually can smell the wire burning before it actually bursts into flames, so the best remedy is to inspect wiring carefully and the minute you smell burning wire, turn off the electricity and start investigating until you can find and repair the problem.
Many people like to use their stovetops and ovens for cooking, but I never do because I know how quickly propane can catch fire. One spill or one accidental touch of a potholder can send flames flying!
Instead, I use my microwave, crock pot, and electric coffee pot and frying pan to avoid having any issues.
6. Highway Accidents
Accidents can result in life-threatening fires and often are caused by
- lack of driving skills,
- drunk or drugged drivers,
- poor road conditions and
- bad weather.
Prevention comes from improving your driving skills, routing your travels over better roads, avoiding weather problems when possible and keeping an eye on the behaviors of other drivers.
But even when you do these things, you can still run into trouble.
In certain situations, you may be blocked from exiting through the front door, so you need to learn how to use the special escape windows that are located in all recreational vehicles. Learn how to do this by watching the attached video and then practice escaping until you are comfortable doing this task.
To make window escape easier, you may want to carry a collapsible fire ladder on board because in higher coaches, the drop to the ground can cause serious injuries.
The videos I’ve attached to this article will give you more specific information about using these ladders. I keep one on board when I travel just as a precaution and am happy to have it available in the event of a fire.
Learn What You Need to Know to Stay Safe
I have always traveled with fire extinguishers and gas and smoke detectors in my RV because I am so aware of the serious threat fires can present. All recreational vehicle owners should do the same.
If you take the time to learn what causes RV fires, how to avoid them and how to protect yourself from them, you and your family will be much safer when traveling.
Hopefully you will never encounter fire problems, but if you do, at least now you’ll be prepared to deal with them.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on May 06, 2017:
Blond Logic: I agree. Fortunately if people learn to take the possibility of an RV fire seriously and then take steps to prevent them, they should never have to worry about needing to escape. However, if the worst happens, at least now they have some clue as to what to do. I want you to know how much I have appreciated your support. Thank you so much. You're a really neat lady!+
Mary Wickison from Brazil on May 06, 2017:
I can't think of anything worse than being trapped inside with a fire spreading so rapidly.
You've given sound advice about the preventative measures one can take to avoid an RV fire and also what to do to get out quickly.
Your pictures are frightening to look at.
Very informative article.