RV fires: what to do and how to prevent them

By: Jill Malcolm

A brief look at motorhome fires: what to do in case of emergency and how to prevent them in the first place.

RV fires: what to do and how to prevent them
Don't throw water on an oil fire.

The nearest I've come to igniting our RV was at Pohara Beach. I was sitting outside the motorhome in the sun waiting for the signal that my bread had toasted to perfection thinking that life was good. I closed my eyes. My mind wandered.

The next thing a fellow camper, an ample woman clad in a light blue fluffy dressing gown, burst through the bushes like an outsized puffball screeching, " Fire! Fire!" I turned and glimpsed our home and castle lazily expelling from every orifice curling billows of smoke.

To my rescuer's alarm I dashed into the eye of the fire and emerged holding aloft two wizened glowing embers from the toaster that forgot to pop.

I was reminded of that incident at the recent Camper Care Show, Christchurch, when the local fire brigade demonstrated the ins and (mostly) the outs of a caravan fire. They used ignited oil in a pan as the prop.

This is what I learnt and I thought it well worth passing on...

If your motorhome or caravan is on fire

1: Don't panic. Easier said than done!

2: Deprive the fire of oxygen. Use a pot-lid, a cutting board, a dampened tea towel, fire blanket, or whatever. If you lift the snuffer the fire will burst into life, again.

3: Turn off the source of heat if you can – at the stove or the gas bottle.

4: Leave the pot/frypan where it is. Attempt to remove it and you could trip or drop it.

A fireman, fully clad in protective clobber then demonstrated what happens if you throw water on an oil fire. The explosion was terrifying. If ever I wanted to fry in hell that would be a simple way of going about it.


  • Clean your stove grill and range hood to prevent a build-up of fats.
  • Don't leave any cooking unattended.
  • Don't have curtains near the stove and watch where you put tea towels.
  • There are no special smoke alarms for RVs but some stockists have the new, small models with batteries that last 10 years.


As cooking fat or oil fire in the kitchen is the most likely type in an RV, the New Zealand Fire service recommends wet chemical and ABE dry powder extinguishers for motorhomes and caravans.

Alternatively, have an ABE dry powder extinguisher and a fire blanket on hand. Position extinguishers close to your escape route Store powder extinguishers on their sides. Learn how to use the equipment; there's no time to read the instructions in the heat of the moment (pun intended).

Aim the jet at the base of the fire not the top when using an extinguisher. Let's hope you never have to.

Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.

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