Guide to Fire Safety in an RV, Campervan or Motorhome

rv fire safety

Campfires should be for smores (not campervans)

A fire in an RV motorhome or travel trailer is an owner’s worst nightmare.

Sooner or later, nearly all RV owners share the fear of coming back to their rig after a hike to find it completely engulfed in flame, along with all of your belongings. Or, perhaps you toss around at night thinking what would happen if a fire broke out in the middle of the night while the family sleeps.

Fortunately, there are preventative steps you can take now to help make your rig and family safer in the event of a fire. In this article, we’ll share some important fire prevention and safety tips to help put your mind at ease in time for your next outing.

What causes RV and motorhome fires?

Fires can break out inside a travel trailer or motorhome fairly easily, whether it’s due to running an electric heater too close to curtains or gas leaks that build up and ignite.

But the primary source of fires in RVs is electrical shorts or a problem with the wiring in the rig. If the fire is electrical-based, it could start in your AC unit, your slide-out, a generator, a refrigerator, electric heater—the list is nearly endless. It’s even possible for a fire to start when these systems are powered down.

Another common source of fires, specifically for motorhomes, is the engine compartment or an overtaxed wheel bearing.

A 2020 report by the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) found that most RV fires occur in older models due to a lack of fire safety measures, older equipment and engines which can fail and start fires.

RV and motorhome fire statistics

According to the FPRF, a lack of smoke alarms was primarily responsible for 24 cases of RV fire death. In a 10-year span from 2008 through 2017, there was an average of 20 fatalities each year due to fires in RVs and on average only a single death occurred in a rig with a working smoke detector—the rest were fully or partially blamed on a lack of smoke alarms.

Also according to the data, roughly 2,000 RV fires occur in the United States each year. That stat excludes vehicle fires involving RVs but does include RVs when they are being used as a “structure.”

Other key takeaways from their report include:

  • The first items ignited in an RV fire were electrical wiring, followed by combustible/flammable liquids.
  • A mattress igniting only occurred in 5% of fires but resulted in 33% of the deaths.
  • Plastics are the most commonly ignited material, but fabrics or fibers catching on fire caused the largest number of deaths.
  • Heat from powered equipment or arcing was responsible for the greatest number of fires and was a significant cause of death.

Check out the full FPRF report for a deeper dive into the dangers of RV fires.

Here’s what a fellow RV and travel trailer owner has to say about fire safety:

“As an RV owner who has camped the better part of 30 years, I don’t go anywhere without my 2 smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in the rig, as well as dual fire extinguishers—one in the back sleeping compartment near the bathroom and another just inside the front door within easy reach whether indoors or outdoors. I also always keep a small fire extinguisher in my tow vehicle (and every other vehicle). I check the carbon/smoke detectors at the beginning of each season, and double-check the fire extinguishers to ensure they still contain pressure in their gauges. It’s also important to be aware of the expiration dates on your fire extinguishers. They’ll last 4 to 5 years, but don’t bet your life on a 15-year-old fire extinguisher.”

– Tom Plahutnik


Tips to prevent (and prepare for) an RV fire

  • Have a plan. Talk with your family about an escape plan in the event of a fire. For example, are you going out a window or the main door? Or perhaps a spare exit door? Make sure everyone knows their way out and where to meet up once they’re outside. Also, test your escape route to make certain all doors and escape windows are capable of being opened in an emergency.
  • Install smoke detectors/carbon monoxide detectors. And don’t forget to test them yearly. Camping without them can clearly be fatal.
  • Stash fire extinguishers. These are important to have, too—not just for putting out fires in your kitchen or your burning carpet, but also for taming an out-of-control campfire.
  • Inspect the electrical system. If it transmits power, plugs in, turns off or creates light, it should be looked at yearly. The bumps and thumps of traveling can knock connections loose, and vibrations can fray wiring which can cause an ember or smoldering fire. If you’re not comfortable inspecting your vehicle’s electrical system, have a qualified RV mechanic do so.
  • Maintain appliances. Keep the air vents to your RV appliances clean and inspect equipment for loose wires or dead animals inside. In addition, make certain the area around your RV stove is clear of anything you don’t want to catch fire. It’s tight quarters in there, so be smart about what’s near an open flame.
  • Check propane gas hoses. Check all liquefied petroleum (LP) gas hoses and connections yearly and stay up-to-date on your LP tank certification. Turn off your LP gas system while you’re driving or towing so that it doesn’t become a source of flammable material in the event of a crash.
  • Avoid using household extension cords. Refrain from using extension cords when possible, particularly household cords. If you need to reach a power junction box that’s too far from your rig, invest in a 25-foot or 50-foot RV-specific extension cord. These cords are more robust and contain a much higher gauge wire (10-gauge) to handle all the amps coming from the campground box.
  • Be careful not to overload powerstrips or plugs. Limit or refrain from using power strips or overloading a plug circuit as those are often a source of electrical fires.

Find a new RV or motorhome with state-of-the-art safety equipment

Getting caught in the middle of nowhere with no way to extinguish a fire in your RV or motorhome is a nightmare. A close call is bound to happen sooner or later, so take all appropriate precautions before it’s too late. Remember and utilize the Boy Scout’s motto:  Be prepared. In this instance, your life could depend on it.

If you’re in the market for a new Class B RV, campervan or motorhome equipped with the latest safety technology, visit Classic Vans in-person or online today. We buy, sell and service countless makes and models of travel vehicles, so you’re bound to find one you’ll fall in love with.

We’ve been in business for over 30 years and have helped thousands of happy customers find the right van or motorhome, so call today and come on over to review our stock of full-size vans, campervans, handicap accessible vans and motorhomes.