On Preventing RV Fires: 6 Case Studies

A RV fire is no joking matter.

Virginia: Mechanical Failure Causes Motorhome Fire (Credit: Sid Choudhari)
Virginia: Mechanical Failure Causes Motorhome Fire (Credit: Sid Choudhari)

When a RV fire breaks out, you may have little time to get out of your RV. That’s why every time you hit the road or use your RV when parked, you need a RV exit strategy. Every member of your family should know what to do in the event of a fire, or any emergency, to ensure their safety.

Approximately 20,000 RV fires are reported each year. These numbers reflect how important fire safety and fire prevention are to the RV lifestyle.

Virginia: Mechanical Failure Causes Motorhome Fire

ARLnow.com reports a Class C motorhome caught fire on southbound Route 1 in Crystal City.

The Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) and Virginia State Police were the first responders to the scene. According to ACFD spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani, three people were inside the RV when the fire started, but they all escaped the vehicle safely and no injuries were reported. The fire is believed to have been caused by a mechanical failure in the engine block.

“The driver didn’t notice the fire at first, just that the car was acting funny and he smelled smoke. They happened to pass by a Virginia State Police officer who saw that the car was on fire and flagged them down,” Marchegiani said

Arizona: Engine Fire Engulfs Motorhome

Arizona: Engine Fire Engulfs Motorhome (Credit: Pinion Pine Fire District)
Arizona: Engine Fire Engulfs Motorhome (Credit: Pinion Pine Fire District)

The Pinion Pine Fire District blog reports that four units were dispatched to Interstate 40 at the 62 mile marker eastbound for a reported RV on fire. Units arrived in roughly 10 minutes to find a Class A Diesel Pusher involved with a quarter acre brush fire.

The cause of the fire is unknown but the occupants believe it started in the engine compartment. No injuries were reported.

Texas: Overloaded Extension Cords Spark RV Fire

Newswest9.com reports a fire in Midland County totally destroyed an RV and jumped to a couple of storage sheds nearby.

The person who was sleeping inside the RV was fortunate to make it out alive. Officials say several extension cords from a breaker box sparked the flames.

Massachusetts: Mouse Nest Sparks Fire

The Cape Cod Times reports a 2001 Gulf Stream Cruiser was destroyed after the owner turned on appliances and likely ignited a mouse nest, according to Deputy Fire Chief Robert Brown. There were no injuries. The owner was cleaning out the 2001 Gulf Stream Cruiser at the time of the fire.

Ohio: Space Heater & Fresh Paint a Deadly Combination

WKBN-TV reports a Youngstown man died after being burned by a fire that was sparked by a space heater.

Texas: Overloaded Extension Cords Spark RV Fire (Source: newswest9.com)
Texas: Overloaded Extension Cords Spark RV Fire (Source: newswest9.com)

The Summit County Medical Examiner’s office said he was painting a bathroom at Green Acres Lake Park in Diamond, just east of Lake Milton, when he was seen emerging from the bathroom engulfed in flames. The man was using the space heater to keep warm as he worked. He was taken to an Akron hospital, where he died the next day.

Maryland: Kerosene Heater Sparks Trailer Fire That Kills Owner

WBOC-TV reports one person died after a fire broke out in a camper style trailer in Queen Anne’s County.

Investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Maryland State Police said they found the body of a 59-year-old man after the fire was brought under control. They said his wife escaped the fire unharmed and explained that her husband had ignited a kerosene heater, which caused some spilled kerosene to ignite on the floor around him.

During the on-scene investigation, it was determined no smoke alarms were located inside the trailer.

Worth Pondering…

How a Fire Burns
In order for fire to occur, four elements must be present:
Fuel (wood, paper, cloth, gas, oils, fiberglass)
Oxygen (air at between 17% and 19%)
Heat (brakes, engine compartment, exhaust system, transmission)
Chemical Chain Reaction (batteries, refrigerator)
If any one of these four components are missing, a fire cannot burn.

—Mac the Fire Guy

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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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6 Case Studies in Preventing RV Fires

With an average of 3,100 RV fires each year, there is no shortage of news stories across the U.S. and Canada about devastating losses due to recreational vehicle fires.

An portable heater left unattended was the cause of a fire that burned this Winnebago. (Credit: Bill Beezley/East Jefferson Fire-Rescue)
An portable heater left unattended was the cause of a fire that burned this Winnebago. (Credit: Bill Beezley/East Jefferson Fire-Rescue)

These fires caused seven deaths, 62 injuries, and approximately $41 million in damages each year.

These numbers reflect how important fire safety and fire prevention are to the RV lifestyle. Keep in mind a few safety precautions whenever you leave an RV for any amount of time.

Make sure that space heaters are turned off at night and when leaving the RV. Do not leave cooking unattended for even the shortest period of time. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly and replace batteries yearly.

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

Washington: Heater Cause of RV Fire

Peninsuladailynews.com reports that an old portable heater left on in a Winnebago was the cause of a fire that burned the motorhome.

East Jefferson Fire-Rescue personnel found flames shooting out of the roof of the 1972 Winnebago Chieftain after they were called to the fire at Sea Breeze Mobile Home Park.
No one was hurt, but the vehicle was uninhabitable, according to reports.

The owner of the vehicle was absent at the time of the fire, which was reported by a neighbor who called 9-1-1 dispatchers.

Royal Firefighters apply plastic to a trailer window after a fire at the Fort Victoria RV Park on Christmas Day. (Credit: Bruce Stotesbury, timescolonist.com)
Royal Firefighters apply plastic to a trailer window after a fire at the Fort Victoria RV Park on Christmas Day. (Credit: Bruce Stotesbury, timescolonist.com)

The owner told firefighters he had left an old portable heater on when he left the vehicle about an hour and a half before, and that was determined to be the cause of the fire.
Twelve firefighters from East Jefferson Fire-Rescue responded to the call.

Mississippi: Unattended Skillet Cause of RV Fire

Sunherald.com reports that a fire heavily damaged a 41-foot camper trailer on private property in Saucier on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Nobody was in the camper when the fire started. The cause was a skillet left on after sausage and bacon had been cooked, Harrison County Fire Marshal Pat Sullivan said.

Nine firefighters and two engines from Saucier Fire and the Harrison County Fire Services responded when the fire was reported. Sullivan said it took about 10 minutes to put out the fire.

Maryland: Hot Water Tank Malfunction Cause of RV Fire

Heraldmailmedia.com reports that a hot-water tank malfunction started a fire that caused $60,000 in damages to a 2011 Keystone Raptor fifth wheel trailer and its contents near Hagerstown.

The RV, which contained a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, was a total loss, according to a fire marshal’s office news release.

Twenty-seven firefighters from Hagerstown, Leitersburg, Longmeadow, Maugansville, and Greencastle, Pennsylvania, took 15 minutes to bring the fire under control.

Ohio: Refrigerator Cause of RV Fire

Norwalkreflector.com reports that a motorhome fire started at the bottom of the refrigerator and spread to the wall.

Damages totaled $20,000 and the vehicle was determined to be a total loss due to major heat and smoke damage.

Three vehicles and seven firefighters responded. When they arrived at the scene of the blaze, flames had gone through the roof and one side of the motorhome. No injuries were reported.

Texas: Space Heater Cause of RV Fire

Weatherforddemocrat.com reports that an RV fire south of Weatherford on Christmas left a man, who was sleeping inside the vehicle at the time, with third-degree burns to several parts of his body.

Fire that started at the bottom of the refrigerator destroys motorhome. (Source: norwalkreflector.com)
Fire that started at the bottom of the refrigerator destroys motorhome. (Source: norwalkreflector.com)

The man’s mother indicated her daughter and her husband saw the smoke from their house nearby and went to the RV and helped him get out. Firefighters from Spring Creek VFD, Weatherford Fire Department and Greenwood VFD responded to the fire and found the RV on fire. Firefighters said the fire probably started due to a space heater.

British Columbia: Turkey Left Unattended in Oven Cause of RV Fire

Timescolonist.com reports that a cooking turkey left unattended in an oven caused a travel trailer fire on Christmas Day.

View Royal firefighters were called to the Fort Victoria RV Park after neighbors spotted smoke coming from the trailer. Firefighters had the flames out quickly but the trailer suffered considerable smoke damage.

“It’s another ad for not leaving your cooking unattended,” said fire chief Paul Hurst.

“That turkey will be inedible.”

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

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Fires Destroy 5 RVs, Pickup &Fatality

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

Firefighters extinguish pockets of fire that engulfed a motorhome. (Courtesy: Cape Coral Fire Department)
Firefighters extinguish pockets of fire that engulfed a motorhome. (Courtesy: Cape Coral Fire Department)

It is critical that every member of your party know what to do in a fire or other emergency. If you are one of the millions of RV enthusiasts who love to take to the road and explore the country, ensure your family’s safety while travelling in your RV.

Recent media reports detail seven separate fires involving recreational vehicles.

California: Unattended Cooking Fire Destroys RV & Pickup

Santacruzsentinel.com reports that a cooking fire in an RV destroyed the RV and a Chevy pickup.

A man was cooking in the RV but was outside the vehicle when the fire started said Zayante Fire Chief John Stipes. The man tried to extinguish it and was burned on his hand, firefighters said. He was not transported to a hospital.

The fire spread to the Chevy and briefly threatened trees and a home about 10 feet from the RV.

Firefighters doused the blaze in about 20 minutes.

Pennsylvania: Extension Cord Overload Causes Camper Fire

fire_safetyLancasteronline.com reports that a pop-up camper was destroyed after an electrical malfunction sparked a blaze near Christiana.

A couple was living in the camper temporarily while their home was under construction nearby, according to Paul Reimold, Christiana fire chief. A heater had been in use inside the camper. An extension cord running from the camper to a nearby home was completely burned. The chief estimated damage at $5,000 to $6,000.

Florida: Candle Causes Motorhome Fire

WINK-TV reports that an unattended fragrance candle caused a fire that destroyed an RV.

When Cape Coral firefighters responded the RV was completely engulfed in flames. Smoke was visible across the city. An open field and a street separated the RV from other homes. Firefighters acted quickly to prevent the fire from spreading across the field.

An investigation revealed that the owner of the home had just returned from a trip to Busch Gardens and were using a fragrance candle to freshen the air inside the motorhome.

At some point, the candle sparked a fire in the center of the RV which then spread quickly.

The RV, valued at 35,000, was a total loss. There were no injuries.

North Carolina: Electric Space Heater Causes Motorhome Fire Fatality

Blueridgenow.com reports that an electric space heater is the likely cause of a recreation vehicle fire that took the life of the person inside.

Henderson County Assistant Fire Marshal Joe Swain said investigators could not determine the precise cause of the fire because of the amount of damage done to the RV.

A woman who was living in the RV “did use a space heater because the furnace in the motorhome was not working,” Swain said. “We are assuming it could have been that, but I could not pinpoint what it is.”

The body was burned too far beyond recognition to make positive I.D. The body was transported to the medical examiner’s office to make a positive identification.

Because of its construction, the RV burned quickly. The motorhome being so small and made out of fiberglass and foam materials with thin paneling, when the fire department got there, it was fully involved. The walls were pretty much down on the floor by the time they arrived.

Mississippi: Propane Sparks RV Explosion

A build-up of propane inside a motorhome sparked an explosion at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. (Courtesy: WLOX-TV)
A build-up of propane inside a motorhome sparked an explosion at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. (Courtesy: WLOX-TV)

WLOX-TV reports that a build-up of propane inside an RV sparked an explosion at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds.

Witnesses reported smelling propane just before the explosion. The Jackson fire department responded to the scene.

No one was inside the RV at the time, but two dogs were rescued. The canines were not injured. A number of witnesses helped extinguished the flames before firefighters arrived.

The State Fair Commission says the Louisiana couple that owned the RV were in Jackson to watch their daughter compete in a barrel racing competition.

This is the first known explosion at the state fairgrounds during an event.

Conclusion

According to the US Fire Administration, 42 home candle fires are reported every day – over 15,250 annually. More than half of all candle fires start when something that could burn, such as furniture, mattresses or bedding, curtains, or decorations is too close to the candle.

Nationally, there have been an average of 3,100 RV fires each year since 2000. These fires caused seven deaths, 62 injuries, and approximately $41 million in damages in each of those years, according to Cape Fire.

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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