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No, Stef and I have not experienced an RV fire, and hopefully never will. But recently, one of our readers mentioned in a comment that his RV caught fire and tragically burned to the ground. I was concerned, and so I reached out. He was kind enough to write a piece about his experience, and share some tips on what RVers can do ahead of time to make it less traumatic. We all hope we never experience an RV fire, but if you do, Joe’s tips could mitigate the disaster.
Our RV Fire and Aftermath – by Joe Griffin
On January 22, 2019 at 4:30PM as we were parked in a RV park in Shoshone, CA, smoke started pouring into our motorhome from a panel under the refrigerator. My wife, our dog, and I all immediately evacuated our beloved Tiffin. Over the next several hours, we battled the fire on our own, waited for the local volunteer fire department to arrive, and watched as our motorhome burned to the ground. We were left only with the clothes on our backs while we were 2500 miles from home. I cannot provide any tips on how you can prevent this from happening to your RV (clearly, I am not a expert on prevention), but I can offer some thoughts about how to mitigate the the impact of such an event.
First, if you see smoke, assume that there is a fire and get out immediately. Assume that you are NOT going to get back into your motorhome and take any important items with you (provided that they are within easy reach). I left my phone behind when we left the RV and my wife left her purse and phone. We left the keys to our truck hanging next to the door. Fortunately, I had my wallet in my pocket. But, at the end of the night, my wife had no ID or credit cards, we had no cell phones, and our truck was destroyed because we did not have the keys to start it and move it.
Second, consider keeping a “bug out bag (BOB)” near the exit of your RV. Keep a change of clothes, a couple days of medications, a set of keys to your toad, and some ID and credit cards in the bag. You might even want to make that bag the charging station for your cell phones. The layout of your RV may make keeping a BOB nearby inconvenient or impractical, but I’m sure that you can come up with a solution for your particular circumstance. I sure would have liked access to some of my medications that evening after watching the fire. And a change of clothes would have been nice too.
Third, check your insurance NOW to make sure you have the right coverage. Our insurance company, Erie Insurance, includes assistance to get you home if you have problems while on the road. In our case, they reserved us a rental car while we were on the phone reporting the fire the next morning. (We got what appeared to be the last rental car in Pahrump, NV that morning due to the insurance company’s quick action and existing relationship with the rental car agency.) They paid a significant portion of our expenses home, and have been fantastic in settling the claims. If you carry a large amount of possessions or valuable toys (like bikes, golf carts, or ATVs) make sure they are covered and that they are covered at replacement cost. It pays to shoulder a slightly more expensive premium if the claims experience is good and if you will receive replacement value for your possessions.
We spent the larger part of 3 weeks detailing the possessions we lost in the fire. We ended up submitting a 60-page list of items. (We drove a 40 foot Class A, so we had lots of space and stuff along for what was a planned 4-month trip.) I don’t have any ideas about how to make this task easier. If you do use a pre-trip checklist or inventory, it might make detailing a loss easier but make sure you keep a copy of the checklist in a safe space (not in your RV).
Lastly, we were lucky that we keep most of our important information in “the cloud”. Once we replaced our phones the day after the fire, we were able to connect to the cloud and recover important account numbers, contacts, documents, and photos. So, make sure that you have accessible off-site backup of important information. Google and Apple have reasonable solutions that make maintaining copies of your data easy.
We are well on the way to finding a replacement for our beloved “King Julian.” We will see you on the road. Stay safe, prepared, and healthy.
— Joe Griffin