Most of us who have been traveling for awhile know of at least one person who has had an RV fire. It may be a friend of a friend or a picture we saw posted on social media, but the results of a fire in an RV are almost always catastrophic and once you have seen them you can’t forget it. Thankfully it is not that common of an occurrence, so I was really surprised when I received a text yesterday from a former work kamping coworker who said she had just lost everything. They were staying in a name brand campground visiting family, when her husband went to take the dog for a walk. He turned back because the dog was being stubborn and saw smoke pouring from the rear of their Class A. He ran to the door and yelled for her to get out. My friend had enough time to grab her purse (which thankfully was by the door and run out before there was a small explosion. The coach was engulfed in flames in less than five minutes and they lost everything except for what they were wearing, and a few items that were in their safe. It was fast, they had no warning, and they still don’t know exactly why it happened.
As I was talking to her, I started thinking about if we were prepared for a similar incident and then Lee and I had a conversation about it. Here are a few of the items we talked about, and I wanted to pass them along in the hopes of starting more conversations. Even if you have talked about it in the past, it’s probably a good time to review. We learned we have some work to do.
- Smoke Detector Batteries – Just like in a home these should be tested monthly, replaced twice a year, and they need to be in all of the rooms. Another friend of ours put them in the basement of his coach and I think that is a great idea. A few seconds notice could make the difference between life and death. (A great way to be reminded is to use your smart phone and set a recurring reminder to check the batteries. My phone and watch and Alexa are always telling me to do stuff that I would otherwise just forget. – Lee)
- Emergency exits – Know where your emergency exit windows are, and how to use them!!! If feasible, try them out. The first time you use one shouldn’t be in a panic when you’re half asleep in the middle of the night with a fire between you and your door.
- Fire Extinguishers – We have a very small one which has been with our RV for 5 years. Since they should have an annual inspection I have no confidence it would work in an emergency. Fire extinguishers aren’t cheap and even worse are hard to find a safe place to store. They are little pressurized “bombs” themselves and must be attached to something when you travel.
- Insurance – We have a solid policy and we added additional coverage for personal items as well. The biggest point here is are you insured for replacement value (we are) or actual value, and in the case of actual value what is your plan for where to live while deciding what to do next. Even if your insurance company will cover a few days in a hotel that probably wont be enough. A contingency fund to carry you over while you wait for your payout is probably a good call. (Also, the information you might need should be somewhere easily accessible that is NOT your rig. Give it to your kids to keep for you, or put it in a document in the cloud that you can access without any trouble. Assume anything in your rig will be gone. – Lee)
- Electronic backups – We live in a wonderful age of electronic media, but maintaining it requires some work. In our case our pictures have all been scanned and both the scans and our digital pictures have been uploaded, and our tax documents are also in electronic format, also uploaded. (If you are an Amazon Prime member, you have unlimited online storage of your photos. If you have a gmail account, you have online document storage. Scan everything, sort it into folders, and upload those folders. Even our home movies are uploaded to a private YouTube channel, and this Christmas I’m giving all of our daughters a portable hard drive with all of the home movies on it as well, so there are lots of copies of these irreplaceable things out there. – Lee) Medical records can all be accessed online now and our prescriptions are available online with Walgreen’s. (They lost their prescriptions in the fire and that was one of the first things they needed to do.) All that being said not everything is electronic. Jack’s information needs scanned and some other documents like our warranty information are only in hard copy as well. We need to spend some time going through our files and making sure we have electronic copies of everything relevant and then make sure that we have an offsite backup for those drives. Having everything electronic is all well and good but if your drives all burn up that’s not helpful. This is something we need to do more work on. (I’ll be taking care of all this this fall and winter. It’s a great winter project. – Lee)
- Clothing – My friends lost all of their clothing to either actually being burned or smoke smell that cannot be removed. The Red Cross gave them $250 for immediate needs, which was great, but replacing an entire wardrobe is both time consuming and expensive. Not much you can do to prepare for something like this happening, but think about a contingency fund for this as well.
- Pets – Thankfully their dog was outside when it happened and she was saved. If a pet is lost on top of everything else that can be absolutely heartbreaking. Some people have signs on their doors that state a pet is inside so if the fire occurs while they are gone there is a chance the pet could be saved. Jack sleeps in our bed, so if something happens in the middle of the night he will be close. All that being said, and I am a huge pet lover, please don’t rush inside and try to save your pet. RVs burn to the ground in just minutes, and they can explode at any moment and risking your life if just not worth it.
I am sure there are more things I am not thinking of and please feel free to add additional thoughts in the comments. I just wanted to take a moment and talk about this since it was fresh in my mind. I am also adding pictures at the bottom to remind us all of how devastating one of these fires can be.
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Great reminder…about 10 years ago Mario was burned badly in the house, and ever since we have tried to keep more than one fire extinguisher…one should be near the kitchen for sure (they make small ones) and one in the bedroom…we had them mounted on the walls for easy access in the rig.
Somewhat different circumstances but we just learned we can be packed up and rolling in 20 minutes when we were faced with a mandatory evacuation from a Southern California wildfire last week. Stuff was thrown everywhere but slides were in, motorcycle loaded, jacks down and we were on the road quickly. That might be another useful drill to practice with.
That is great feedback thanks for sharing it
Thank you for this column and your blog, I having been reading it for many years. I appreciate your willingness to share both the good and bad of this life style. We have learned a lot from you! Thank you for all your efforts!
We have a fifth wheel and have full size fire extinguishers in main living room, bedroom, both sides of our basement, battery room and inside our truck. We recently added a generator to our back rack and will be taking a fire extinguisher out to it, whenever we use the generator.
Fyi, we had a welder/fabricator create/replace the brackets for the rack before adding the generator. We don’t want to lose it rolling down the road.
We fortunately have not needed the extinguishers but have stopped on the road and helped someone with a car engine fire.
I hope you friend is doing OK following their fire.
Thanks Susan and appreciate your comments
We have some custom weld work done will definitely need to think about that for fire extinguishers