Friday, September 17, 2021
Friday, September 17, 2021

Propane — the devilish details

By Greg Illes
MotorhomeFireA beautiful day can become sad, or tragic, when an RV catches fire….

We were out “somewhere,” happily doing what we love best — exploring the western states. We’d been camped for a couple of days, and life was good.

I was checking out a couple of frisky squirrels, and it was warmish outdoors, so when I walked back to camp, I was not surprised to see the motorhome door open; but the screen door was also open, a curious thing.

My wife was outside, and looked at me with some concern — “I smelled propane, big time”.

Those are words for high alert. After waiting for 5-10 minutes for the coach to air out, we cautiously approached, smelled nothing, and went inside. I checked the obvious stuff — heater and stove. Yup, the stove middle burner was in the “LOW” position, but not lit. The open door had allowed enough of a breeze to blow out the flame.

Does your RV stove have a manual igniter? Sure it does  — so does ours and many other models. That means that there’s no automatic shut-off for the flow of gas (like the heater, fridge, or water heater).

So why didn’t our leak detector go off? At least that would have given us some earlier warning.

20170619_153714The leak detector was in its fifth year, which in all detectors will result in an indication of having reached the end of its useful life. Our detector was, in fact, displaying the end-of-life warning. But the LEDs in our detector were very dim, and the detector is mounted down at floor level and not easy to see. We never noticed the display.

In Engineering parlance, this was a “double point” failure — either fault alone would have been no problem, but the two put together could have been disastrous.


1. Don’t leave a lit stove unattended, especially with the door open. Check burner status, especially on LOW settings (which are more easily blown out).

2. Be religious about checking and replacing propane leak detectors. You just never know when your life will depend on them.

I wrote the expiration year on my replacement detector, big and bold. And I will test it before every trip.

Editor: Here is a link to propane leak detectors at

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. 

##GI-6-17; ##RVT799 ##RVDT1336


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Dave Helgeson
1 year ago

I never understood why stove manufacturers did away with a standing pilot light. It was convenient and in my opinion a great safety device to prevent incidents like the one described.

Gloria Sluder
1 year ago

We had bump the knob on the stove and it turned on, smelled propane and detector went off so we removed them. Our kitchen area is real compact.

1 year ago
Reply to  Gloria Sluder

What are you attempting to say?

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