Fifth wheel burns to the ground in 20 minutes. Totally destroyed!


By Steve BarnesA quarter-mile from our site on BLM land 25 miles from Yuma, AZ, a 38-foot fifth-wheel erupted in fire. It took 18 minutes for the first of two fire trucks to arrive from Yuma Proving Grounds, United States Army, and 19 minutes for an ambulance to come from Winterhaven. A couple of sheriff’s cars also attended.

It only took 20 minutes from the start of the fire for the trailer to burn to the ground. It is all fiberglass, plastic and imitation (plastic composites) wood.

Everybody was safe, but it was a nasty site as propane, gasoline and aerosol cans exploded. When I arrived at the scene by bicycle, an undisclosed number of firearms were still exploding. How do firefighters protect themselves from shells exploding? Good question!

Below is a fire we came across at our site in Laughlin last March. Even though this motorhome was only five minutes from the fire station, it was still completely destroyed.

In both fires, the owners lost everything. Many here are full-timers or 5-month Snowbirds. They might have lost wallets, money, family photographs, credit cards, passports, underwear, coats, car keys, pets, and maybe even their tow vehicle if it was parked nearby. Think of what it would have been like for them that first night in a hotel after they had lost everything. Do you have a grab bag of essentials in the event of a disaster?

Have you checked to see if your fire escape windows will open? When my fifth-wheel was new, I checked the fire escape. It would not open. By the time I had removed enough insulation and retrofitted it 2 1/2 hours had passed … yet in a fire, you have less than two minutes to escape.

Did you know that a full-timer needs a full-timer insurance policy? Your recreational use policy will likely not cover you.

The lessons here are:

1. Make an escape plan with your partner.
2. Keep phone and car keys in the same place every night.
3. Keep a grab bag containing essentials and duplicates of some of the items listed in #4 below.
4. Hide in your car:
• insurance invoice
• passports or copy
• prescription drugs or list thereof
• duplicate or “other” financial institution credit card
• $100 cash or more
• inventory of RV contents including photos of open drawers and
• identification and contact info for family members
5. Most importantly, check with your partner that your fire escapes work and you know how to use them.


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1 year ago

Apparently one cause of RV fires is overheating ammonia refrigerators.

It’s a complex topic, but I decided to invest in a Fridge Defend controller to reduce this risk.

The Fridge Defend concept (patented) and quality seem good, but the installation is a bit of work.

To assist others, I created a “Fridge Defend User Notebook” as I did the install:

The install also includes blowers to increase efficiency and save energy.

Hope this is useful to others considering or installing this product! John

1 year ago

Get a small fireproof safe for your docs and any external hard drives or digital storage. I also store these in sealed zip lock bags to help waterproof them. It could also be a flood, accident or tornado that ruins your day. I scanned all my documents, tax returns, insurance, etc and keep all on two cloud servers, Dropbox and Thunderdrive. Got rid of all paperwork before we started fulltime living.

Howard Malpass
1 year ago


This is something I have never given any consideration about! NOW I intend to follow your suggestions and take care of things as I would in my brick home!

I could indeed loose quite a lot, when I travel, I am gone about 4 months a year.

Thank you for making this “notice” known to all of us!

Respectfully yours,

Howard Malpass
Shreveport, Louisiana

Henry Dorn
1 year ago
Reply to  Howard Malpass

Same here Howard, I don’t think about RV fires that much–after all, we have an extinquisher, and follow safety practices to a fault–like most people.

We camped in remote Idaho BLM locations last year. I just left the 19-foot Jayco TT hooked up to our pickup.

One could imagine a trailer fire spreading to the tow vehicle.

1 year ago

Just a correction….firearms don’t “explode”. They are made of steel and in some cases, polymer parts. It’s the ammunition that explodes. And when lose ammunition explodes, it’s not like it’s being fired from a gun barrel, it’s more like how a firecracker explodes.

While ammunition exploding in a fire sounds deadly, it’s not. It is dangerous and can cause injury just like any other household goods that explode, but it’s not a reason to stand back and refuse to fight a fire.

Brian S. Holmes
1 year ago
Reply to  Will

a very very foolish statement, the one in the chamber will most certainly discharge as a normal fired round moving through the camper and out into the public or police or firemen. Given a larger caliber weapon like most carry for the ” not on my watch ” situation or “cause you never know” scenario you will be lucky if the one injured or killed isn`t one of the ones you think you might have to protect. Always an excuse never a real reason. Let it burn.

Jeff Craig
1 year ago

Not sure if they had any pets, but this situation is one thing that scares the beeee-jesus out of me. We keep harnesses on two of our three cats and have TILE’s attached to them. We also have one on our dogs collar. The main idea was that if a cat got out, we could activate the app and if the TILE was in range, it would alarm – but now I’m thinking it would be useful if we had a fire break out. We could alarm the two cats and grab them as we dive head first out the escape window.

1 year ago

I am just 200 yds from the fifth wheel that Steve shows burning. I was watching some early Nascar events for Daytona Week on tv when I smelled plastic burning & thought it was something in my fifth wheel. I jumped up & looked around, wondering what it could be. Then I glanced outside to the south & saw thick smoke coming from a fifth wheel just down the road from us. Within a minute the flames broke thru the center of the rv. I rushed down to the site, but the guy who lived there alone was outside & no one appeared to be hurt. Steve is right, the rv burned down to the frame in 20 minutes when the fire department got there. All they could do was put out the remaining small flames from the floorboards & the tires & even the aluminum wheels. The owner did manage to get the propane tanks out of the rv during the fire & I heard later he may have suffered burns on his hands. I have a couple of pics of the flames breaking thru the middle walls of the rv & the same “after” pic Steve shows above. The owner left shortly after the fire was out & nobody has heard from or seen him since then.
Afterwards, while thinking about something like that happening to our fifth wheel, I realized our floor safe is only burglar proof, not fire proof. A couple of days later, I found his floor safe laying on the ground & when I opened it, I found only black burned paper & ash. So I ordered a couple of small fire proof envelopes from Amazon to protect our legal papers, titles, & emergency cash we carry in the floor safe. Big mistake. They claimed the envelopes would protect up to 2000 degrees in a fire. So I tested one of the envelopes filled with paper & put it in the burned safe & put the safe in my campfire for 10 minutes. The envelope fell apart & the paper inside turned to ash. Don’t buy “fire proof envelopes”, thinking they will protect valuables, because their claims are worthless. I then ordered a small fire proof safe from Amazon.

1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

We fulltime and also bought a small fireproof safe. Keep documents in waterproof bags inside the safe because floods and tornadoes can also ruin your day.

1 year ago

I would dread this happening to anyone…

But, as a suggestion, get a 2-hour (minimum) fire rated safe for important documents such as external computer back up drives, Wiils, Medical Directives, RV and car titles, password lists, emergency cash, emergency phone lists to credit card companies & banks, Social Security Cards, Passports, Auto/RV registrations, a spare cell phone, maybe some certain prescriptions, etc. In the event of such a disaster, that 20 minute fire would not hurt a safe and you can mitigate a worsening situation.

1 year ago
Reply to  TravelingMan

Also include your last three years tax returns and a copy of your insurance documents.

Be sure to thoroughly document everything in the RV by taking pictures (digital media and paper copies) and also put that in the safe.

name withheld
1 year ago

We are camping in just that area. We smelled, then saw the smoke before all the fire trucks came roaring by- thanks to YPG for their continued support of this LTVA area. Late that day, we drove by the destroyed RV and wondered where the people had gone, if they were okay.

The only thing I’d add is that we have a pet, as many RV-ers do. It is very seldom that we must leave our dog at home, but when we do, we never, ever lock the door. And we have a sign affixed to the slideout by the door to let people know to let the dog out in case of fire.

1 year ago

As a full-timer in a motorhome, I also keep copies of the documents at a relative’s house. If the RV should catch fire, when I’m not there, I still have access to them.