Be prepared for lightning-caused or other RV fires

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By Mike Sokol
The headlines read, “Lightning strike causes fire, consumes three RVs in mobile park.” And nothing strikes fear in the hearts of RV owners quite like a fire does. Let’s face it, RVs are essentially a tinderbox full of flammable material typically encased in a thin metal shell. So once a fire starts it can take hold in seconds and your entire RV can be gone in mere minutes.

David Dunn/Daily Light. (Click any image to enlarge.)

But first, let’s examine what happened in this case. Apparently there was a storm with a bolt of lightning that hit the chimney of a residence at 1 a.m. and started a fire in the house. Of course, the local fire department sent all their units to this location, which meant they weren’t immediately available for what happened next. Just 54 minutes later another bolt of lightning hit a trailer at the nearby RV Parks & Storage in Waxahachie.

What happened next was the combination of a domino effect of RVs being parked close to each other along with the local fire department being occupied with the original house fire from the lightning strike. According to park manager Daniel Escobar, the first RV hit by lightning didn’t stand a chance. “It blew up,” he stated. “When it hit, we heard it. And I live over there at the office. It lit up the whole sky.”

Escobar explained that a large “pop” woke him up. When he went outside to investigate, he saw the first RV completely engulfed in flames. At around that same time, resident Marcus Escamilla woke up next door to a wall of fire burning outside of his RV.


“I smelt the smoke,” he recalled. “I was laying down in bed, so I went and looked out the window, saw that one was already on fire.”

Marcus then banged on the RV next door to warn them of the fire. But before these RVs could be moved, they too caught on fire and were totally lost.

Even though the fire department was immediately called, they couldn’t respond as quickly as usual since they were still fighting the house fire from the lightning strike hardly an hour before. So another fire company had to respond, which took extra time. Time enough for the RVs parked nearby to also catch fire. Luckily for the RV owners, the first RV was unoccupied, and the other RV owners made it out without injury. But their vehicles were a complete loss.

What can we learn from this? Well, first, if a lightning bolt hits your RV there’s a good chance there’s going to be a fire. A direct strike on your RV can’t be stopped by any kind of surge protection device. So if you do wake up to find your RV on fire from a lightning bolt or electrical malfunction, then the best you can probably do is to get out as quickly as you can. And no, there won’t be time to gather important belongings since fire can sweep through your RV in seconds.

So after getting you and your loved ones (including the furry ones) out of your RV, the VERY first thing to do is call 911 and identify where you are and that there’s an RV fire. The fire department should understand the speed of these fires and respond quickly.

Next, if your own RV or a nearby one is on fire, then warn all other RV residents in the area by pounding on their doors and yelling “Fire!” Don’t be bashful about it – seconds count.

But you don’t have to be completely helpless if you do have a fire. There are at least several things you can do to lessen their impact on your life.

Make sure your smoke and CO detectors are working. There’s no excuse for not having working smoke and CO detectors. The extra seconds you get from an early warning can mean the difference between life and death.

Know how your fire exits work on your RV. Some of them require windows being completely removed for you to have enough clearance for an exit, and you might have to jump to the ground. Best to figure this out in advance.

Next, consider getting some kind of fireproof safe for your RV to store any important papers you may carry with you while traveling or full-timing. While you may have backup copies of things like your birth certificates and insurance policies in a lockbox somewhere, you might need them sooner rather than later. So a fireproof safe is a good place to start.

Speaking of insurance, check with your agent to see if you can get a rider that will cover your furnishings as well as the RV itself. An acquaintance of mine lost their RV and all their belongings in a fire. But while the insurance company paid for the loss of the RV, they were on their own to replace all their clothes, computers, personal items and virtually everything else but the clothes on their backs. One insurance agent I spoke to said there was an additional rider that would pay for a rental vehicle or hotel while you recovered from your loss. I’m not sure of the details, but best to ask your agent now, before you have a fire.

And finally, there are new firefighting technologies that can put out a fire in your engine compartment, refrigerator or battery/inverter compartment. One demonstration that I saw a few weeks ago at the Ramblin’ Pushers Club Rally in Goshen, Indiana, used a plastic tube full of a liquefied fire fighting agent. When the tube heated up sufficiently to turn the liquid into a gas, it would burst and extinguish the fire in a second. This product is called THIA (“Tube+Heat = InstantAction”) and is patented by Proteng®, who has licensed installers around the country.

While not as cheap as a fire extinguisher (that really offers little or no protection in a fire), THIA is fully automatic and its gas is perfectly safe to breathe (unlike the Halon fire extinguishers of my early computer days). Installed costs can vary from as low as $1,000 for a small RV to cover the refrigerator and battery/inverter compartment, to perhaps $2,000 to $3,000 for a large Class A RV, depending on how many compartments need to be covered, along with the engine compartment and living space.

I’ve just contacted Proteng about their THIA products, so I’ll be writing up a full article on how this technology works soon. It really could save your RV from complete destruction during a fire, and it would certainly save lives. And as you know, saving lives is my key mission. For more information, visit them here, and tell them I sent you. And watch for my full article on this technology in my RV Electricity newsletter on the last Sunday of the month.

See you then. In the meantime, let’s play safe out there.

Mike  Sokol


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jillie
jillie

Progressive told us that we would get a check to replace the RV and if we needed to a flight home. I don’t fly. I have really bad vertigo. So either just driving home or a train home. Otherwise, another fire extinguisher will work. Fires are nothing to joke about. Glad I have never experienced one. Knock on wood. I did see what happens when a tornado hits. Happened in the UP of Michigan. Thing took off like a rocket. No one got hurt but it was a ride of a life time according to the owner.

LionRampant
LionRampant

Our homeowners insurance covers the contents of our fifth wheel.

TIM
TIM

-Our trailer has two doors, one in the bedroom and one in the living area.
-Multiple fire extinguishers in trailer and tow vehicle.
-Two fire and water proof safes.
-ARP system on refrigerator.
-Extra hose mounted to bib for fire suppression.

Most of all the mindset that saving ourselves and others is more important than property.

Alpenliter
Alpenliter

For my own peace of mind, when I arrive at the campsite I install a splitter on the hose bib and attach an additional hose with a brass high pressure nozzle . This give me access to a basic tool for defending against a neighbors rig engulfing mine. Not that I consider myself a fire fighter, but it helps me sleep at night knowing it’s there.

Wolfe
Wolfe

I’m glad you said you’re protecting your neighbor’s rig, because it’s unlikely you could save your own. I too put a splitter on any close-by water, but I’ll admit it’s more for convenient outside water than firefighting, since I don’t attach a second hose preemptively. I carry several hundred feet of hose which would be a lot more useful if always actually hooked up, so I’ll think about some sort of outside spool-rack.

TIM
TIM

I bought a high quality expandable hose that hangs on the bib in a bag. Grab the nozzle, flip the lever, run as the hose fills with water and spills from the bag.

Rick Blaher
Rick Blaher

Excellent article. Amazing to me how many people in the RV community have no clue how dangerous an RV fire can be and no plan in the event of a fire. We recently had suppression installed in our RV because we now full-time and have an exit plan. Initially, my wife pushed back because she didn’t want to spend a couple thousand on the system. Just a week later we were northbound on I-75 in FL when we were stopped by an RV fire a quarter mile ahead of us. It was an Alegrobus pulling a 1/2 ton pickup. The… Read more »

Bill T.
Bill T.

$1000.00 to stick a couple of plastic tubes in the refer and battery compartments. Are you serious?

Rick Blaher
Rick Blaher

It’s not so much that they are just plastic tubes as they include technology to deploy automatically. Our installed system (not the tubes, but they do the the trick too – personal choice) is not there to save the coach in the event of a fire. It’s there to ensure OUR safety and ability to get out.

Dr4Film
Dr4Film

I recently viewed a video demonstration of the THIA in action on a Facebook page for Monaco owners and frankly I wasn’t impressed. I will stay with the proven technology of AFFF in my engine compartment and Halon in my small compartment that holds the Inverter/charger.

Wolfe
Wolfe

$1000 does sound steep to me as well. I’ve seen automatic fire suppression like these tubes before, but usually in a single bottle (even flower vase) form factor… the tubes would retrofit and disperse better, presumably — just gotta get the price into the range people would spring for it.

Jeremy Pratt
Jeremy Pratt

The other thing to remember with these fire sticks is that once they’re out they’re out. In a lithium battery fire for instance these are self sustaining fires that will eventually die out but usually after setting their surroundings on fire.
Are these better than nothing, yes. Are they taking advantage of people’s fear in the price, yes. Big Truck Big RV has a full youtube video on these, he mounted them himself, very easy to do, shove it where you want it and zip tie it.