The thought of a fire taking over your RV or the land around you is downright terrifying. Summertime can be especially hazardous when there is less than normal rainfall, as we’ve experienced much of this summer. We all want to enjoy ourselves, but we need to do so responsibility. There is a lot you can do to better ensure you, your family, your fellow campers, and your RV stay safe when it comes to fire.
Outdoors at the Campsite
Smokey the Bear is everyone’s go-to expert when it comes to fire safety. After all, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Every DNR office has him displaying the “Fire Danger” sign for the day. Before having a campfire, check the Michigan DNR to see if there is a fire ban for the county in which you are in. Since building a campfire is a big responsibility, Smokey offers some additional tips.
How to pick a campfire spot: Don’t build a campfire if the rules prohibit them; if the conditions are dry or hazardous; build in an existing fire pit (which most campgrounds have at each site) but if there isn’t one, then choose a site at least 15 feet from flammable objects and in an open, level location; take wind gusts and direction into account.
How to prepare a fire pit: Clear a 10-foot diameter area around the site, dig down about 12 inches, and circle the pit with rocks.
How to maintain and extinguish a fire: Never cut down live trees or branches as they will not burn well, once you have a fire going add larger pieces of dry wood to keep the flame going, don’t burn hazardous things that could release contaminants or explode with heat, keep the fire to a manageable size, never leave a fire attended, have water and sand ready in buckets in case of emergency or to extinguish the fire at the end of the evening. When you extinguish a campfire, add water and/or sand or dirt and stir with a shovel until all material is cool. It should be cool to the touch. Then, you’ll know you can leave the site or go to bed.
Being around a campfire: Children and pets should never be left unattended around a campfire. If cooking over a campfire, make sure you have the necessary equipment. Avoid from drinking alcohol excessively as that can lead to falls and serious injury. If you or somebody is on fire, follow Stop, Drop, and Roll.
In the RV
Maintain your RV. This is the number one thing you can. Most RV fires are preventable, so take care of the small problems before they become big ones by inspecting your RV regularly to make sure hoses and connections are tight, no leaks are present, all wiring is in good condition, batteries aren’t leaking, and all electrical and propane systems are working properly. Keep the engine and transmission as clean as possible, as grime and grease are fire hazards. Check the RV’s undercarriage to make sure nothing is dragging, and make sure your brakes are in good shape.
Park your RV in a good spot. Think of how hot the undercarriage and tailpipe of the RV (and tow vehicle) is after arriving from a long ride. You want to leave enough clearance above the ground. A tall, grassy area may not be the best spot to stop at this time. Choose an area that is free of vegetation, such as over gravel or a concrete pad.
Know how your RV works. You need to know how to shut off valves and breakers to stop the flow of fuel or electrical current in an emergency. This is especially important if you are a new owner, have a new RV, or are renting. Go over this with the previous owner or rental business prior to departure. Look at owner’s manuals, too, to familiar yourself with your RV systems. You may need to stop at the source in some situations to avoid a fire.
The smoke detector(s) should be working properly. Check them before every trip. The same goes for the carbon monoxide detector. Bring extra batteries in case they need to be changed during your camping trip.
Check and/or replace fire extinguishers. Keep at least one extinguisher in the RV in an accessible location, such as the kitchen, and one in a place outside the RV that you can access, such as in a tow vehicle, toad, or storage container. There are a variety of fire extinguisher types, including dry chemical, AFFF foam, and Air Pressurized Water (APW). Know how to operate the fire extinguisher. You may consider getting more robust fire extinguishers, such as those used for personal aircraft, that are more powerful. Fires move very quickly in an RV, so you want to stop a fire as quickly as possible.
Pick a spot to meet. In case of a fire, pick a spot at each campground where you and anyone you’re traveling with should meet. Practice once or twice with the kids. Everyone should have a plan of how to escape from an RV that is full of smoke or in flames.
Check things over if you’re renting. According to Doug Mulvaney, senior director of campground design services for Kampgrounds of America and the chair for several committees of the National Fire Protection Association, “If buying an RV or renting an RV, ““Do the homework with the [RV] owner,” he said. “Ask when the last time the vehicle was inspected, take a look at the fire extinguisher, make sure it’s current and that the extinguisher itself hasn’t expired, and check those monitors—there are indication lights on the propane system as well as the carbon monoxide system that show that they’re current and functioning correctly. You can manually check smoke alarms to make sure there’s an audible alarm. Ask if there’s an owner’s manual so you can familiarize yourself with the vehicle and learn how it operates. You really need to just take the bull by the horns.”