RV Fire Safety and Lifesaving Fire Prevention Tips

Your RV is on FIRE!! Do you know what to do? Do you know how to put out a fire in your RV? Do you have an escape plan in place? Do you know what the different causes are so you know how to prevent a fire in your RV? Do you even have any RV fire safety and fire prevention practices in place? If not, this is one of the most important RV articles you will read!

RV Fire Safety and Lifesaving Fire Prevention Tips

Fire Prevention

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Whether you’re a traveling RVer, weekend camper or stationary full-time RVer, you need to know how to act in case your camper or motorhome catches fire. Before we highlight our RV fire safety and fire prevention tips, let’s take a look at some important numbers that will explain why it’s necessary to take RV fire safety precautions seriously.

RV Fire Statistics

According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are about 20,000 RV fires annually. Of that, there’s an average of 24 deaths and 64 injuries associated with RV fires. 

Per U.S. Fire Administration (U.S.F.A.), from 2016 to 2018, an estimated 3,700 recreational vehicle (RV) fires were reported to fire departments in the United States each year. Annually, these fires resulted in an estimated 15 civilian deaths, 100 civilian injuries and $58,500,000 in loss. Worth noting, those statistics are several years old. You can imagine how many more fires there are and loss of life, injury and property loss has increased drastically since more RVs have been manufactured and sold.

U.S.F.A’s statistics of where RV fires start:

    • 28% Engine compartment of motorhomes, running gears and wheel areas.
    • 16% in miscellaneous sections
    • 10% starts in the cockpit area of motorhomes
    • 8% RV kitchens
    • 7% Exterior areas
    • 4% Cargo or Trunk areas

As you see, the top percentage proves why it’s incredibly important to properly maintain your RV engine and its’ components. This is also why most states require a mandated state inspection; especially for motorized recreational vehicles.

I found it interesting to share when most fires in campers actually occur. It comes as no surprise that most RV fires, accounting for 38%, occur from May through August. That high percentage is due to when RVs are being used most; camping season, family vacations and weekends. 

Ironically, U.S.F.A. also reports that RV fires occur most frequently on Fridays and Saturdays. This is due to more RVs being on the road or weekend camping. Further, most RV fires occur during the afternoon, peaking from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. while the least occurring in the morning hours from 4:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. These statistics raise a viable question. “Are these escalation of numbers due to weekend campers lacking experience or being inattentive in their RV and components?”

And lastly, 2016-2018 statistics showed that 37% of the RV fires, the cause of ignition was unintentional actions, followed by failure of equipment or heat source (15%). Exposures and intentional actions caused an additional 6% and 4% of the RV fires, respectively, while acts of nature resulted in less than 1% of the fires. The cause of ignition was undetermined after the investigation in 24% of the RV fires and was still under investigation in 13% of the fires.

Now remember, all those statistics I’ve listed above are 4-6 years old. To give you an idea, in 2018, RV shipments reached 483,672 units. Two years later, GoRVing reported shipments for 2020 finished at 430,412 units, surpassing 2019 by 6%.

That’s on top of the number of existing recreational vehicles out there. This includes motorhomes, all towable RVs such as travel trailers and fifth wheels, truck campers and vans. Unfortunately RV fires will continue to escalate simply because more RVs are being added to the inventory. With that, there are also that many more unfamiliar RV owners, families, renters, etc. that are, not only new to the RV lifestyle, but also the recreational vehicle itself.

While it’s a fact, anywhere you live, you should have fire safety practices in place. But since we’re talking about RV fire safety, let’s get acquainted with these fire prevention tips that may save yours, your family’s and your pets’ lives. And yes, you’re RV too!

For further reading, you may want to check out the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s 2020 Fire Damage and Loss Assessment of Recreational Vehicles.

What to do IN CASE OF FIRE in your RV?

RV Fire Safety - Fifth Wheel Fire
Photo by Bob Swieda – WBIR News

Fire safety checklist will help guide you to safety:

    • Get everybody OUT of the RV and safely away from the fire. Get to a meeting place to muster.
    • If it is a small fire and you can extinguish it without putting yourself in danger, put it out with a fire extinguisher.
    • If it is too big of a fire or coming from an unknown source, GET OUT! Don’t risk your safety.
    • Never re-enter a burning RV to retrieve anything! GET OUT & STAY OUT!
    • Call 911! Be aware, know that cell service may be limited in your location. Plan ahead in case of emergency like this.
    • Know your exact location so firefighters and first responders can find you. If you’re in a campground, it’s wise to write the address and campsite number on a piece of paper and keep it by the door. Take a photo of it using your smartphone.

RV Fire Prevention Tips

RV Maintenance

RV fire safety is much more than having a smoke detector. Maintenance of your motorhome or camper should be a top priority because components, if not taken care of, could be the culprit of starting a fire.

In fact, electrical failures or mechanical issues cause roughly three-quarters of the highway vehicle fires. But, by conducting your proper RV maintenance will help reduce your chances of having malfunctions and fires on the road. So, make it a point to go over your pre-trip inspection checklist prior to hitting the road.

RV maintenance checklist for fire prevention:

    • Inspect your RV’s breaks regularly; this includes trailer brakes on your towable RV. Dragging brakes cause friction and can cause a tire or the brake fluid to catch fire.
    • Check all electrical connections as constant movement of your RV and it’s components can cause wear and expose wiring. Through friction, they can cause heat and ignite. 
    • Locate all 12-volt connections and inspect prior to every trip as they can cause shorts and sparks in the electrical system. 
    • Ensure there are no leaking fluids anywhere in your engine compartment. Wipe off any spills or drips.
    • Look over all hoses making certain they are firm with no splits, cracks or rubbing. Check and tighten loose clamps.

Have an Escape Plan

Should your motorhome or camper catch fire, the very first thing you should do is evacuate immediately. RVs are notorious for igniting and burning quickly. We recommend putting into place an escape plan and having at least two escape routes. Practice your escape plan often with your travel companions. Also, set a safe location away from the RV to meet.

This is why it’s important that everyone in your RV are knowledgeable of the operation of all doors, hatches and emergency exits. If your RV has windows placed high off the ground, it wouldn’t hurt to have a fire escape ladder in the areas of high windows.

And reiterate to all travel companions or campers to never enter a burning RV; even to rescue pets. Keep doors and windows open so they may escape as well.

Fire Extinguishers

Kidde Fire Extinguisher

Once you and your travel companions have boarded your RV, show them exactly where each RV fire extinguisher is located. There should be one each; in the bedroom, kitchen, main living area, and outside unlocked compartments. It wouldn’t hurt to also keep another fire extinguisher near your battery storage as well as in an unlocked compartment near your exterior refrigerator and water heater panels. Be aware though, while fire extinguishers may last from 5-15 years, they all have an expiration date and become ineffective, no matter what fire-fighting substance they contain.

One important reminder is to check the expiration date(s) on your fire extinguishers. Home builder Bob Villa specifies in his article, How Long Do Fire Extinguishers Last?:

“Look for a paper tag on the fire extinguisher showing a record of maintenance. It may not connote an expiration date, but if the oldest date on the tag was more than 10 years ago, your extinguisher’s days are likely numbered—it may already have lost its ability to fight flames.”

He also advises to inspect the pressure gauge at the top. If the needle is within the green area, your extinguisher should be in working order. If so, set up a monthly reminder on your calendar or your phone to continue checking the gauge. A needle in the red or white area indicates that your fire extinguisher requires service.

But what if your bacon grease starts a small pan fire on your RV cooktop? It would be smart to keep a free boxes of baking soda readily available in your RV kitchen to extinguish those cooking fires quickly.

Fire Suppression System

Fire suppression systems are a self-contained and automatic device that is installed in areas that pose the highest risk of fire. 

THIA by PROTENG® is the most cost-effective solution for fire available that is non-toxic and non-corrosive; and leaves no residue, nor room for operator error. It’s a fully automatic and self-contained fire suppression device that can be custom-installed in RVs in areas at the highest risk of fire. It uses a unique, patented delivery system using a liquid gas that puts out fires in milliseconds. They are designed for those hard-to-reach places to suppress fire right at the source.

Each fire suppression device consists of a polyamide (synthetic polymer) tube filled with FM-200 that when exposed to potentially threatening temperatures (exceeding 158 degrees Fahrenheit for the standard system and 194 degrees Fahrenheit for the heavy-duty system), the tube ruptures dispersing the gas and extinguishing the flame at its hottest point.

The most commonly-used areas of protection in RVs are:

    • Electrical and Battery compartments, inverter, fuse panel, and other areas of electric distribution.
    • Engine Compartments
    • Generators
    • Water Heaters
    • Refrigerators

And, they’re not just for RVs either! Use it for your tow vehicle, mobility scooter, golf cart, and anywhere else at a higher risk of fire.

Smoke Detectors

First Alert Smoke Detector

While having a fire extinguisher is a much-needed fire suppression device, knowing there’s a fire before it rips apart your RV will ultimately help save your family’s life by alerting them even when in a sound sleep. That’s why your RV needs at least one good quality smoke detector. The bigger the RV, the more smoke detectors you’ll need. You don’t want to cheap out on getting one. A good functioning smoke detector could be the only chance you have to wake up in time and escape safely.

Also, always familiarize yourself with how a smoke detector works. You can manually check your RV smoke alarms to make sure there’s an audible alarm. 

Heat Detector Alarm

Heat Detector Alarm

Most older RVs don’t have heat detectors however, they are worth their weight in gold. A heat detector alarm provides quick detection of rapid temperature increases. It’s reaction to heat rather than smoke makes it ideal for installation in your RV and it’s lower compartments in order to avoid false alarms caused by cooking and vehicle fumes. Heat detectors are vital to be alerted to fires breaking out in your motorhome or camper. It would be a good idea to put one in your battery compartment and where your electrical system is located.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

Kidde Carbon Monoxide Detector

Most newer RVs come with a hard-wired carbon monoxide detector. And if yours doesn’t you surely should get one installed. A simple plug-in carbon monoxide detector or battery operated carbon monoxide detector can save your life.

Regardless if your RV has a hard-wired or aforementioned portable carbon monoxide detector, pay attention to the indication lights. As well, stay vigil on your propane system indicators that will show they are functioning as they are supposed to.

Propane Safety

RV Fire Safety - Propane

There’s a huge controversy amongst RVers whether or not they should turn their propane off while driving their motorhome or pulling their towable. The safe answer is YES.

Shut off the propane at the tank and turn off all propane-powered appliances while driving. If you have an accident or tire blowout while the propane is on, your injury and the damage to your vehicle can be catastrophic.

Should you travel with the refrigerator operating on propane, you must turn it AND all appliances OFF prior to entering a fuel stop. Oh, and for what it’s worth, most refrigerators will keep food cold or frozen for eight hours without running while you travel.

Also, prior to getting your propane filled at a filling station, turn off your propane.

Electrical

I’ve noticed lately that RVers are reporting their electrical plug being melted right at the pedestal. This is due to loose connections in old electrical systems in campgrounds and RV parks. If your plug is loose, it can cause overheating and arcing which can also result in high current delivery into your RV. This is why it’s important to inspect the electric pedestal even before even plugging in.

It’s also important to inspect and monitor your connections in your RV’s junction boxes, automatic transfer switch, and breakers in your distribution panel.

And lastly, you need to make certain your RV power cord is in good condition. Make certain it is showing no wear in the plug or has splits or cracks in the cord covering. Any discrepancies aforementioned should cause concern. Take them as a warning and replace damaged cords immediately.

RV Fire Safety - Highway RV Fire
Photo courtesy of Tom Sherlin, The Daily Times

Storing combustibles

Most RVers and Campers don’t think about storing their combustibles. For example, did you know spontaneous combustion can occur in damp charcoal? So, prior to setting off on your camping trip, we recommend that you buy fresh charcoal. And, keep it dry and store your charcoal in covered metal storage container.

Also, be mindful of transporting and storing charcoal lighter, citronella oil, butane and propane canisters, even metal polish, WD40, and other highly corrosive and flammable aerosol products. It’s best to just buy those supplies once you get to your campsite. Properly dispose of combustible materials by using them up. Be sensible of where you’re storing them; preferably in ventilated compartments. And, keep them away from paper, bags and items that could ignite quickly. 

RV Fire Safety Tips

Other Lifesaving RV Fire Safety Tips

Be cautious of where you pull over and park. A hot exhaust pipe or catalytic converter can easily ignite dry grass underneath your RV.

When driving or parking your RV, watch for low hanging electrical lines. Do not allow them to touch your motorhome or camper roof.

Never leave open flames or cooking appliances unattended. While we love our crock pot or Instant Pot, you should only reserve those for cooking while you’re present. 

If your older RV has halogen lights (which burn hot), consider replacing them with safer, cooler LED lights.

Keep clothing and other potentially combustible materials away from RV cooktops, stoves and other cooking appliances.

Always unplug hair dryers, irons, appliances prior to leaving your RV or going to bed.

If the flame on your RV stove or cooktop goes out while in use, unless you have run out of fuel, the gas will continue to flow and could result in an explosion. Turn off the stove and open the windows in your RV to get rid of the fumes before relighting.

Never leave space heaters unattended. Also, never plug them into extension cords or power bricks.

Gasoline and propane can pose an immediate, explosive danger. Deal at once with any leaks or spills, and use all fuels in adequately vented areas. Operate your generator in an area where gasoline fumes cannot reach an ignition source.

Keep your campsite fire pit, fire ring, tiki torches, lanterns or other flame producing apparatus away from your RV and your toad or tow vehicle. 

NEVER overload your RV’s electrical outlets. Your camper’s circuit breakers may not always prevent  overloads from igniting a fire.

Avoid using electric power strips OR extension cords in your RV; especially if plugging in an electric space heater. Never run any appliance cord underneath carpets or floor mats.

RELATED: Top 10 PORTABLE FIRE PITS for RVs and Camping

Final thoughts on RV fire safety and preventing fires in your RV.

RV Fire Safety - Motorhome Fire
Photo and Story Courtesy of Curt Werner of The Sentinel

Here’s the deal, friends. RV fires CAN BE prevented. Commit to proper regularly RV maintenance schedule and be diligent in checking everything mechanical. Take precautions on how you store combustibles. But most of all, ensure all family members know what to do in case of fire AND your RV fire safety escape plan. The last thing we ever want is to read another RV fire statistic that could have been prevented.

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