Fire Safety Essentials for Motorhomes and Rvs

Did you know there are more than 330,000 caravans and recreational vehicles registered in Australia?

Fire – Our Friend and our Foe

Fire, one of the elements of life, is a powerful and useful tool but also be a destructive force. Misuse or misunderstanding of it can lead to disaster. Bushfires are a major hazard here in Australia. Many Australians families will still remember the series of bushfire that plagued New South Wales in October 2013 (Figure 1).


Figure 1. A photo of the NSW bushfires (from the ABC News Network)

Australia is well known for its beautiful landscape that draws the attention of tourists and locals alike. Many of them like to use their purchase or rent campervans or motorhomes for their travels around. There are currently more than 330,000 caravans and other forms of recreational vehicles registered in Australia.

As a moving home with many electrical and cooking appliances, one of the potential hazards in an RV is a fire. Regardless of whether or not it is involved in a road accident, fire hazard remains a potential hazard. Over the last decade, in New South Wales alone, the NSW Fire and Rescue fire fighters have attended over 1,000 incidents in recreational vehicles, with more than 60 injuries and eight fatalities reported.

Preparing Your Motorhome

Driving a motorhome is just like using another vehicle for the first time. You have to get used to the driving feel and more importantly its specifications and limitations. Find your manual and read over it thoroughly.

Spare some time to inspect the electrical appliances, and pay special attention to the condition of the wiring (see Figure 2). In older RVs just like in older cars, the wiring can be worn out or frayed. If this is the case then it is important to have it repaired immediately. Spend additional time to check for exposed internal wires. If you don’t have time, hiring a professional auto electrician is a good idea. A little expense initially could save you a lot in the long run. Any motorhome or campervan rental company should check over their rental RVs regularly to ensure they are being maintained.

Figure 3. A typical electrical diagram of a motorhome

Figure 2. A typical electrical diagram of a Motorhome

Aside from electrical, gas system should also be checked. Have them regularly tested by an authorized gas-fitter, as the washers and o-rings tend to wear with age, especially in harsh climates like the Australian Outback. Before you begin your trip, double check that all gas valves are shut properly and meet with current legislation.

Next, ensure you have the correct fire safety equipment fitted to your RV (Figure 3). In an emergency it is important to have quick and easy access to your fire extinguishers and fire blanket. Both are best located close to the door. Make sure your extinguisher is kept up to date, because pressure can decrease if unused for long periods. It is always good to test your equipment before taking off on any long road trip.

It is also important to install a smoke alarm fitted with a silent button. Test it before you go to make sure the censor and the battery are in working order.

Get to Know Your Route

Always study your route before you leave, and check for updates as your drive. It is important to be aware of road conditions, nearby emergency facilities, police and fire stations. You can search the route online for any potential disruptions or hazards. On the map, look for emergency facilities (such as fire stations) along the way.

Figure 3. A range of fire and safety equipment for an RV (from Gomakememories website)

Despite the advancement of online social media, information from radio broadcast can still be relied on for the updates on road conditions and hazards. Search for national and regional radio stations along your route that provide emergency road and weather broadcasts, and don’t forget to pack a battery-operated radio in case your RV loses power.

Spare some time to visit the Bureau of Meteorology website for weather reports and any incidents or hazards like bushfires that may affect you on route to your destination.

Learn About your Destination

When planning the fun side of an Outback vacation, it is also important to research the following:

  • Locate emergency exits, possible refuges, and public payphone locations (in case of poor cellular signal). Also plan your parking and know the distance and pathway to the exit.
  • Make sure there is adequate space surrounding the outside of your RV. Fire fighters need at least of 2 metres space between dwellings and 1.2 metre wide pathways to properly do their job.
  • Know the evacuation routes in case of a fire in the RV or bushfires around the camping ground. Also check for fire evacuation routes which should be provided by the camping ground management.
  • Identify at least two exits (door and window) for your evacuation plan should you face a fire in your motorhome, and decide on a common spot outside your RV where everyone can meet. Consider purchasing a window hammer to break the glass if your RV has limited exits.
  • As soon as you settle in, check the condition of all gas pipes and connectors that might have been knocked after driving on rough country roads. Set up your electrical and cooking appliances according to Australian regulation standards.
  • Have a portable radio to monitor weather conditions and fire restrictions that may be announced.

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