Heat, smoke, devastation—even with a decent security system and a great RV insurance policy, a fire in your motorhome or travel trailer can be catastrophic. Results range from minor inconvenience and cosmetic damage to total loss, personal injury, or worse. Fortunately, most fires can be avoided by taking preventative measures, following a few easy safety tips, and having a contingency plan just in case. Consider adhering to these suggestions.
1. Fuel Lines
During periodic maintenance, have the fuel lines of your RV checked for corrosion. Personally, our lines have small metal "elbows" that are susceptible to rust. During one weekend, we had two of them fail, spewing diesel. We have replaced all of them. Although the temperature at which diesel combusts is extremely high, gasoline burns much lower. If your rig is gas-powered, checking the lines is especially important.
Your RV may carry propane to fuel your furnace, water heater, and/or your cook stove. Obviously, it's a potential fire source. Make sure to keep your appliances in good shape and take care when refilling your propane. Although professionals are responsible for actually pumping the gas, you need to make sure that all of the main breakers for your power are turned off. Additionally, it's a good idea to turn the propane valve to off before traveling.
3. Electrical System
Since malfunctions in the electrical system are a common cause of RV fires, it's a good idea to regularly check the wiring. Make sure that all connections are secure. Unless you're a skilled electrician—if something looks suspicious—have it checked by a technician.
Keep the stove clear of any combustible items like paper plates or towels. Although it may seem like common-sense—in the smaller cooking area of an RV kitchen—it's easy for items to inadvertently get nudged too close to the burners.
Plus, you should periodically check the stove knobs to make sure they are set to "off". In the limited space, it's easy to accidentally brush up against one, turning on the propane. This can result in gas poisoning, as well as fire.
Maintaining your tires and wheel bearings can help you avoid incurring a fire while driving. If the wheel bearings seize up, they can overheat the tire—especially if it's underinflated—causing it to combust. Make sure to check the tire pressure regularly and grease the bearings when recommended.
Another common, avoidable cause of fire is leaking transmission fluid. Heat from the exhaust system can easily set this highly flammable fluid ablaze, so it's smart to look under the rig often and repair leaks as quickly as soon as they're identified.
7. Check Smoke Alarms
Smoke alarms may be your first indication if a fire breaks out. Make sure to test your alarms every two-weeks—it generally only takes the press of a button—and make sure they work properly.
8. Fire Extinguishers Up to Date
Keep multiple fire extinguishers throughout your RV, check to ensure they're at the correct pressure according to the gauge, and replace them if they are out of date. Make sure everyone knows where the extinguishers are and knows how to use them. Periodically reread the directions so you're prepared for any emergencies.
9. Have an Escape Plan
Identify and mark all emergency exits including windows, then plan all escape routes for any possible scenarios. When you have additional occupants while traveling, make sure they're informed of the plans.
10. Keep Your Insurance Current
Although it's probably a given, it's extremely important to keep your insurance up to date. The only thing worse than experiencing a fire would be to realize that you lost everything and have no way to recoup.
Many fires can be easily prevented with a bit of maintenance, vigilance, and forethought. The impact of those that aren't can likely be reduced with properly working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. As a last resort, make sure to have a good escape plan and current insurance. It's also a good idea to have a bug out bag packed, just in case.