Carbon Monoxide: Odorless & DEADLY In All Seasons

On a cool Wednesday in March this year, a couple was enjoying their RV at a KOA campground in Nashville. Their bodies were discovered by family members who traveled to Nashville to check on the couple after they were unable to reach them for several days.

Carbon Monoxide: Odorless & DEADLY In All Seasons
Carbon Monoxide: Odorless & DEADLY In All Seasons

One of the propane-gas stove burners had been left on accidentally, police said, filling the air with carbon monoxide. The RV had a carbon monoxide detector, but, it had no batteries. The couple had been living at the campground for about six months, according to WRCB-TV.

Every year on average, over 400 people die in the United States of carbon monoxide poisoning that’s not fire-related. Thousands more are treated and sometimes hospitalized.

The Columbia (Missouri) Tribune reports that carbon monoxide poisoning is to blame in the death of a couple in rural Pike County. They were found in a small camper where they had been living. The coroner concluded that a propane space heater in the camper likely caused carbon monoxide poisoning.

Usually, we think of this as a winter issue. That’s when gas-producing generators and fireplaces generally get fired up. But in northern areas where summertime camping is popular, carbon monoxide remains a concern in all seasons.

Prevention

Carbon monoxide is produced when you burn any one of various fuels, including wood, charcoal, kerosene, stove oil, and propane. Camping stoves and grills are sources. So are internal combustion engines, like those in generators.

Carbon Monoxide: Odorless & DEADLY In All Seasons
Carbon Monoxide: Odorless & DEADLY In All Seasons

One of the things that makes carbon monoxide so dangerous is it has no odor or color. Your only clues that you’re being poisoned may be general symptoms easily attributed to another problem. Or, if you’re asleep or intoxicated, you may not detect the poisoning at all.

So it’s important to prevent carbon monoxide from becoming an issue in the first place. Fortunately, there are good ways to do that:

Use portable generators outside only. Place far away from windows, doors, and vents. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 20 feet.) Point the exhaust away from your RV, tent, or house.

Never use a stove or grill to heat your tent, camper, or house. Even a warm, unlit grill is dangerous; warm coals continue producing carbon monoxide. The grill lid doesn’t protect you. Instead, for camping, remember to pack plenty of blankets and coats.

Grill in open air only, not even in a garage.

Don’t use a portable lantern when sleeping in a tent or RV. Bring flashlights and extra batteries instead.

Ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector. Test it monthly, and change the batteries every six months.

Don’t ride or let your children ride in the bed of a covered pickup truck, such as one with a camper shell. Exhaust fumes can gather in there.

Inspect the RV for openings in the floor and sidewalls (seal any holes with silicone adhesive or have it repaired before using your generator again). Inspect windows, door seals, and weather strips for effective seal.

Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances (coach heaters, stoves, ovens, water heaters, etc.) indicate a lack of oxygen—determine the cause and correct it immediately.

carbon-monoxide-poisoning
Carbon Monoxide: Odorless & DEADLY In All Seasons

Inspect the RV chassis and generator exhaust system regularly to ensure they are working properly. “Inspect for exhaust leaks at every startup and after every eight hours of running,” recommends Keystone RV Company in a carbon monoxide fact sheet. Here are a few more of their tips:

Don’t use exhaust fans when the generator’s running. They could cause carbon monoxide to be sucked into the RV.

Fully open or close slide-outs for a proper seal.

Know that parking in a confined space can reduce airflow around the RV and cause carbon monoxide to build up. Even in the woods, if there’s a lot of natural covering, carbon monoxide can hover there rather than disperse. High humidity can also create a covering.

Be aware that shifting winds can cause exhaust to blow away from the coach at one moment, but under the coach in the next moment.

Nearby RVs and vehicles can affect you too. In 2008 in Indianapolis, one man died in his RV from carbon monoxide poisoning and three of his family members were hospitalized, but the family hadn’t been using a generator. Police believe their air conditioner may have pulled in carbon monoxide from the RV parked close to them.

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

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Space Heaters Deadly as Cause of RV Fires

Fire safety is essential when camping in your recreational vehicle.

Jesse Evans had already been pulled from this burning RV before volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene. (Credit: Norma Martinez/ rockportpilot.com)
Jesse Evans had already been pulled from this burning RV before volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene. (Credit: Norma Martinez/ rockportpilot.com)

In earlier posts I reported on space heater fires that destroyed RVs and caused the death of its occupants—both human and canine.

Following are recent reports on four RVs destroyed by fires that were caused by human carelessness.

Ohio: Space Heater Cause of Camper Fire

Mansfieldnewsjournal.com reports that a camper was destroyed in a fire caused by an electric space heater. A family of four was displaced after a fire consumed their Charles Mill Lake camper. Mark and Amy Snyder and their two children, Savannah, 10, and Taylor, 13, had been living in the camper for the past year.

“We lost everything (in the fire),” Mark Snyder said. “But everybody made it out alive, and that’s all that matters.”

The family’s two cats and a pet rabbit were killed in the fire, Mark said. The family dog survived.

Ashland County’s Mifflin Township Fire Department responded to the camper fire just after midnight, chief JJ Bittinger said. When crews arrived, the fire was fully engaged. Firefighters spent two hours dousing the flames and cleaning up. The camper and all of its contents are considered a total loss. Bittinger said firefighters attribute the cause of the fire to an electric space heater in the children’s bedroom.

Potential space heater fire (Source: familyhandyman.com)
Potential space heater fire (Source: familyhandyman.com)

Amy said everyone was asleep when the fire broke out in Savannah and Taylor’s bedroom. Savannah woke up to smoke in the room and started screaming “fire”. Amy’s rental car also was damaged in the fire.

Montana: Propane Heater Cause of Trailer Fire

Kxlf.com reports a man escaped from a camp trailer fire at the KOA Campground in Butte. The Butte Fire Department investigators who responded to the fire determined it was started by a defective propane heater in the trailer. The man managed to evacuate the trailer unharmed, but the vehicle was heavily damaged by the fire.

Texas: Propane Space Heater Causes RV Fire

Rockportpilot.com reports a small propane heater exploded in the face of a 78-year-old man who was attempting to light it in his RV, which was in an RV park. He was rescued from the burning RV by a neighbor.

The man, Jesse Evans, was checked at the scene by EMS personnel who noted he had burns to his face. He was transported to the EMS helipad then taken by HALO-Flight to a burn unit in San Antonio. Evans told paramedics he was attempting to light the heater when it exploded.

Washington: Space Heater Fire Cause of Trailer Fire That Kills Canadian Snowbird

Gazette-tribune.com reports a Saskatchewan man who winters each year in Oroville died in a fatal motorhome fire in Prince’s RV Park.

The Oroville Fire, Police and Ambulance departments, as well as an Okanogan County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to the scene at around 4:06 a.m., according to Sheriff Frank Rogers. When emergency personnel arrived they believed a subject was staying in the trailer but were not sure and the fire at the trailer was fully involved, said the sheriff.

“Once the fire was put out they discovered the body of Cornelius D. Friesen, 84, of Glenbush, Saskatchewan. The trailer belonged to Friesen, who comes down to Oroville during the winter and was living in the trailer. Detective Sloan from the Sheriff’s Office also responded to the scene to investigate the cause,” said Rogers.

(Source: firesafetycouncil.com)
(Source: firesafetycouncil.com)

At this time it appears that the fire was caused by space heater in the trailer and Friesen was the only one in the trailer at the time of the fire.

9 Tips For Safe Operation of RV Space Heaters

1. Buy a space heater that is the correct size for the area that needs to be heated.

2. Buy a space heater with covers or guards over the working parts of the heater to prevent burns. This is especially important if you have children or pets.

3. Maintain at least three feet around space heaters and keep them out of the reach of children. and pets. Pets can easily knock them over or children can get burned on them.

5. Never leave a space heater turned on when going to bed or leaving the room or RV.

6. Ensure your space heater has tip-over protection and overheat protection, both of which will force a shut-off if there’s a problem.

7. Be aware that RVs require specially designated heating equipment and only electric or vented fuel-fired heaters should be used.

8. Plug space heaters directly into an outlet: don’t use extension cords or power strips.

9. To avoid fire and exposure to carbon monoxide, don’t use outdoor fuel heaters, like those meant for camping, indoors.

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

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More Space Heater Fires Destroy Pets & RVs

Whether camping or just relaxing in your recreational vehicle, fire safety is essential.

A fire started by a space heater in a travel trailer spread to a second trailer, a car, and a home just. (Credit: Avra Valley Fire Department)
A fire started by a space heater in a travel trailer spread to a second trailer, a car, and a home just. (Credit: Avra Valley Fire Department)

In an earlier post I reported that four small dogs died and an RV was destroyed in a fire caused by a propane space heater.

In today’s post I report on two RV fires caused by careless use of space heaters.

Arizona Fire Started by Space Heater

A fire started by a space heater in a travel trailer spread to a second trailer, a car, and a home in Picacho, reports the Arizona Daily Star.

When units from the Avra Valley Fire District arrived on scene they found heavy flames and smoke coming from a masonry-built home, Patrick Calhoun, spokesman for the fire district, said in a news release. A car and two travel trailers also were ablaze. It took two engines and two water tenders to extinguish the fires.

Potential space heater fire (Source: familyhandyman.com)
Potential space heater fire (Source: familyhandyman.com)

“The fire was believed to have had started in one of the travel trailers when the resident living in the travel trailer turned on a space heater,” Calhoun said.

The fire then spread to the house, car, and another travel trailer on the property. Damage is estimated at $225,000.

“The units from the Avra Valley Fire District went about eight miles out of our normal response area to fight the fire,” Calhoun said. “This is due to the fact that the town of Picacho is a no-man’s land for fire coverage.”

Calhoun warns that space heaters require at least three feet of clearance area around them. When selecting a space heater, he suggested buying one with a guard around the flame area or the heating element and one that has been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.

Calhoun’s other tips include:

  • Buy a heater that is the correct size for the area that needs to be warmed
  • Ensure everyone knows how to property operate the heater
  • Never leave a space heater turned on when going to bed or leaving the room
  • Keep doors open when using a fuel-burning heater, to reduce the risk of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide accumulating
  • Be aware that RVs require specially designated heating equipment and only electric or vented fuel-fired heaters should be used

Pets Die in Space Heater RV Fire

A dramatic RV fire sent smoke into the air over Boise, Idaho. Firefighters were there within minutes, but they couldn’t save the trailer or the pets inside, reports KTVB.

Boise Fire Marshal Romeo Gervais says the fire started near the back of the RV where there were two space heaters. The owner indicated that one is left on all the time to keep her pets warm.

Gervais provided KTVB listeners with advice on what makes space heaters dangerous and how to use them safely.

Probably the biggest concern is clearance to combustibles and/or children or pets. When you deal with space heaters, you need to keep at least three feet or so clear around them and keep them out of the reach of children and pets. Pets can easily knock them over or children can get burned on them.

(Source: firesafetycouncil.com)
(Source: firesafetycouncil.com)

Plug space heaters directly into an outlet: don’t use extension cords or power strips.
Ensure your space heater has tip-over protection and overheat protection, both of which will force a shut-off if there’s a problem.

Purchase a space heater with covers or guards over the working parts of the heater to prevent burns. This is especially important if you have children or pets.

Space heaters, including wood stoves, are responsible for a third of all home heating fires, and four out of five deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Most of those fires were started because the heaters were too close to flammable things, like furniture.

In addition to space heater safety, Gervais says not to use ovens or stoves as heat sources. He also says to avoid fire and exposure to carbon monoxide, don’t use outdoor fuel heaters, like those meant for camping, indoors.

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

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Propane Space Heater Fire Destroys RV & 4 Dogs

Studies show that fires in recreational vehicles, especially older units, tend to be more devastating than those in other forms of residence.

FIRE_119_t620
A portable space heater started the fire that consumed this RV. (Credit: The Spokesman-Review)

Heating and electrical system malfunctions are the leading causes of fire in RVs. Together, they account for one-third of the fires.

Four small dogs died and an RV was recently (January 15, 2013) destroyed in a fire blamed on a propane space heater in Spokane, Washington, The Spokesman-Review reported.

A man had been staying in an RV parked in a driveway and was inside the house watching television with the homeowner when they heard a noise, said Assistant Fire Marshal Bill Clifford.

They found the RV in flames. “He was trying to get the dogs out and was unable to,” Clifford said.

The man was treated for smoke inhalation. Clifford said the dogs may have knocked the space heater over or knocked something flammable into it.

A propane heater also shouldn’t be used in an enclosed space because it emits carbon monoxide, which can be deadly, Clifford said.

Nothing much is left of the RV. “They burn so fast,” Clifford said.

“It’s just lightweight construction.”

Propane Space Heater Safety

carbon_monoxide-300x225The following information is provided courtesy of appliance retailer, Air & Water.

You and your family are camping, when someone experiences a sudden headache. Another person becomes nauseous. Suddenly, you realize everyone around you is sick—even you!

These are the first warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from the improper, unsafe use of portable propane heaters. Advanced exposure to carbon monoxide can result in:

  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Coma
  • Death

Clearly, the dangers of using a propane heater are real. However, does this mean all heaters that use this type of gas are dangerous?

Not at all! The answer is the same as for any other space heating device; that is, propane heating is perfectly safe as long as you follow proper directions and safety precautions.

It’s not difficult or time consuming to be safe.

What is a Propane Space Heater?

Propane heaters can come in two specific forms—freestanding or attachment. A freestanding model is all-encompassing, comprised of a base, body, and propane tank attachment that can be attached to a standard LP tank.

A space heater is simply one of many devices using LP gas.

Are Propane Heaters Safe?

Space_HeatersThe danger of propane comes not from the gas itself, but rather from its organic byproduct of combustion—carbon monoxide. Propane has a strong odor, allowing you to quickly discover a leak with a simple sniff. Carbon monoxide, however, is tasteless and odorless. This gas will compete with oxygen binding sites on the hemoglobin molecule, making it a safety hazard.

The actual risk is slight and injuries are uncommon from carbon monoxide poisoning. Since the early 1990’s, there have only been about 80 cases of serious carbon monoxide poisoning due to propane heater misuse.

Propane Space Heater Safety Guide

NEVER use in an enclosed space that’s too small for the corresponding propane heater size. No matter the size, all propane heating units generate CO as a natural byproduct. The most important thing is to determine an appropriately sized heater for your RV.

Reduce the risk in your RV by following these safety guidelines:

  • ENSURE that the heater is installed properly so that it doesn’t leak fuels, will run properly, and all safeguards are functioning
  • TEST your smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, and propane alarm once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year
  • KEEP all combustible substances away from the heater
  • ENSURE that the heater will not be accidentally knocked over
  • ALWAYS provide ventilation by cracking a window or vent when the heater is in use
  • NEVER use a space heater when sleeping or when unattended

Worth Pondering…

Remember, Safety First, and Happy RVing!

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