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Old 07-19-2015, 11:48 AM   #1
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RV Fires While Towing - Propane Risks?

I was headed home yesterday when traffic was delayed by an RV fire on WA State Highway 16 east of the Narrows bridge. The fire was out by the time we passed the unit. The origin of the fire appeared to be near the middle of the street side. The fire had charred a fairly narrow swath (about 6 feet wide?) up to the top of the unit, so must have been put out pretty quickly. I guessed at the time that the location might have been an appliance as the origin was low on the side.

So today I Googled "rv fire highway 16" and was surprised to see a YouTube video of the very same fire! No, wait, it wasn't the same fire. It turned out that this was another RV fire on the same highway back in July of 2012. Glancing at the number of hits on Google was pretty intimidating.

The Mrs. and I are considering purchasing a Lil Snoozy. It's "normally" sold as an all-electric trailer. It appears from what I have read that a primary motivator for Alan Smoak's decision to offer an all-electric trailer had more to do with the additional costs of the LS factory being certified and/or insured to install propane than any objection to propane per se.

I have also seen where folks have added propane heaters to their Lil Snoozy following their purchase. And, at least one owner had the trailer "prepared" for propane at the factory, following which it was apparently certified at another local shop.

We have considered that we might want to add propane to a Lil Snoozy.

My question is this: is there a significant risk of fires while towing that is associated with using propane, perhaps such as running a 3-way refrigerator? I realize that this might be really a tough question to answer as a fire could start from any of a great number of causes. However, if I recall correctly, running a 3-way refrigerator on propane while towing is a fairly common practice. And in fairness, I suspect that would not be a common practice if fires were rampant.

We are personally considering using a 12 volt DC refrigerator.

Still, I'd be interested in learning more about potential risks and best practices associated with trailering with propane.
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Old 07-19-2015, 12:02 PM   #2
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I was headed home yesterday when traffic was delayed by an RV fire on WA State Highway 16 west of the Narrows bridge. The fire was out by the time we passed the unit. The origin of the fire appeared to be near the middle of the street side. The fire had charred a fairly narrow swath (about 6 feet wide?) up to the top of the unit, so must have been put out pretty quickly. I guessed at the time that the location might have been an appliance as the origin was low on the side.

So today I Googled "rv fire highway 16" and was surprised to see a YouTube video of the very same fire! No, wait, it wasn't the same fire. It turned out that this was another RV fire on the same highway back in July of 2012. Glancing at the number of hits on Google was pretty intimidating.

The Mrs. and I are considering purchasing a Lil Snoozy. It's "normally" sold as an all-electric trailer. It appears from what I have read that a primary motivator for Alan Smoak's decision to offer an all-electric trailer had more to do with the additional costs of the LS factory being certified and/or insured to install propane than any objection to propane per se.

I have also seen where folks have added propane heaters to their Lil Snoozy following their purchase. And, at least one owner had the trailer "prepared" for propane at the factory, following which it was apparently certified at another local shop.

We have considered that we might want to add propane to a Lil Snoozy.

My question is this: is there a significant risk of fires while towing that is associated with using propane, perhaps such as running a 3-way refrigerator? I realize that this might be really a tough question to answer as a fire could start from any of a great number of causes. However, if I recall correctly, running a 3-way refrigerator on propane while towing is a fairly common practice. And in fairness, I suspect that would not be a common practice if fires were rampant.

We are personally considering using a 12 volt DC refrigerator.

Still, I'd be interested in learning more about potential risks and best practices associated with trailering with propane.

I suspect that there are more fires caused by electrical faults than propane. Many turn of the propane at the tank when traveling. Some keep the fridge running. But that areas is pretty well protected.

The problem with electricity is that if something happens it continue to pump energy into the fault until the electrical source is disconnected. Many many car and truck fires are caused by electricity. I would suspect that more RV fires are caused by electrical faults than propane. One reason is the "shade mechanics" think that because it's only 12 volts they mess with it even if they know what they're doing. After all they can't get shocked with 12V DC, but you can weld with it.
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Old 07-19-2015, 12:26 PM   #3
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Most of the RV fires I have seen were attributed to appliance fires, usually in the kitchen and often due to grease build-up in the kitchen vent so, as this indicates, towing with LP may not be any more hazardous than parking with it, which isn't any more hazardous than cooking at home..... !


Some time back one of the builders actually stated that LP in an RV was inherently dangerous, for what ever reason, but no definitive proof or statistical evidence was ever offered.


In almost 40 years of RV'ing we have never had so much as a propane leak, much less a fire, and we leave it on all the time to power the LP refrigerator.


If one was really worried, all they would have to do is turn the tank OFF when under way. Most 3 way refrigerators (if you are using one) will keep food cold for the duration of most towing.


As the Bard was told one faire daye, whilst visiting a maiden in the local campe centere, whenst inquiring about the gaseous stuff he was told that it was "Much Ado About Nothing" and he was so impressed, that he wrote a play about it.....



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Old 07-19-2015, 01:19 PM   #4
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The fire that we had in the Scamp in March was of electrical origin. A friend lost his trailer due to a fire originating in the refrigerator while traveling running on propane. I always travel with the propane turned off at the tanks, and the refer on 12 volt.
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Old 07-19-2015, 02:34 PM   #5
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RV Fires While Towing - Propane Risks?

I think it's similar to house fires. Most are caused by an electrical problem, not an NG problem. Maintenance is key, and that includes periodic cleaning of anything that could increase a fire risk.

People have been towing propane equipped trailers for many decades now, and the vast majority never have a problem. If you're concerned that a trailer with a propane system poses a greater safety risk, I wouldn't be.

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Old 07-19-2015, 06:31 PM   #6
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I would agree with Byron with electrical being the biggest cause. I know of 2 occasions where their water heater kicked on while towing and the flame was sucked to the outside. You all know how big that flame is and it didn't take long to burn it down. I run with the refer on PP but only fire the WH 10 minutes before I need hot water.
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Old 07-19-2015, 06:38 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Borrego Dave View Post
I would agree with Byron with electrical being the biggest cause. I know of 2 occasions where their water heater kicked on while towing and the flame was sucked to the outside. You all know how big that flame is and it didn't take long to burn it down. I run with the refer on PP but only fire the WH 10 minutes before I need hot water.
Are you telling me that someone was driving with the water heater running? CRAZY !

Running the fridge is risky enough.. but at least it has (or should have) a shut off if the flame goes out.
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Old 07-19-2015, 07:44 PM   #8
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Yup Gordon, that's exactly what they did. Don't remember now if they forgot to turn it off or if that was normal for them. $$$ way to learn a lesson.
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Old 07-19-2015, 07:45 PM   #9
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Are you telling me that someone was driving with the water heater running? CRAZY !

Running the fridge is risky enough.. but at least it has (or should have) a shut off if the flame goes out.
As should the water heater.
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Old 07-19-2015, 08:01 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by rbryan View Post
I think it's similar to house fires. Most are caused by an electrical problem, not an NG problem. Maintenance is key, and that includes periodic cleaning of anything that could increase a fire risk.

People have been towing propane equipped trailers for many decades now, and the vast majority never have a problem. If you're concerned that a trailer with a propane system poses a greater safety risk, I wouldn't be.

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Many times when there is a fire and the causedetermined
it is listed as an electrial fire . I got this information from friends of mine
who worked for the State Fire Marshall. They make arc fault breakers that trip
from arcing faults as well as overloads and short circuits. They are required in new
residential occupancies but not in RVs. The cost for an arc fault breaker was
$65/ ea a few years back . They are a good option in an RV but at their high cost
and with no code requirement its not going to happen.
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Old 07-19-2015, 08:14 PM   #11
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Reading this thread got me thinking. Does anybody remember having a gas heater in their car. It siphoned off gas from the carburetor to burn in a separate heater. Heat came on in 10 seconds. No waiting for engine to warm up.
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Old 07-19-2015, 08:33 PM   #12
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Just because you have a trailer with propane, no one says you have to use it under tow...
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Old 07-19-2015, 08:47 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by steve dunham View Post
Many times when there is a fire and the causedetermined
it is listed as an electrial fire . I got this information from friends of mine
who worked for the State Fire Marshall. They make arc fault breakers that trip
from arcing faults as well as overloads and short circuits. They are required in new
residential occupancies but not in RVs. The cost for an arc fault breaker was
$65/ ea a few years back . They are a good option in an RV but at their high cost
and with no code requirement its not going to happen.
Wouldn't you need a long extension cord to have a fire on the highway caused by the lack of an arc fault breaker?
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Old 07-19-2015, 09:12 PM   #14
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I retired last year from 25 years of service as a NFPA certified firefighter, also served in officer positions and as a fire instructor. According to NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 49% of vehicle fires are due to mechanical failure or malfunction and 23% electrical failure or malfunction. Now this includes all vehicles not just RV's but based on my overall career experience from all types of fires and their causes I would NOT run any propane appliance while trailering and I would have an inline fuse on the battery connections so in the event of a dead short the fuse hopefully would prevent an electrical fire. Also as I restore our Boler, I am keeping all this in the back of my mind as I rerun the wiring to ensure there is nothing to potentially be compromised and cause a short. I will pay the extra money for the ground fault plugs also. One more thing with regard to fire safety in general, anyone who is restoring/rebuilding/remodeling/buying a used trailer period should make sure they have a modern, working smoke detector, propane detector and carbon monoxide detector (even if you are total electric) and fire extinguisher. Propane leaks and carbon monoxide fumes can also come from other sources such as generators or vehicles from adjoining campsites or even in parking lots or rest stops. In terms of fires I classify RV's right there with mobile homes as when they do catch fire they tend to go "fully involved" at an alarmingly fast rate of fire spread due to typical components used in their construction.
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Old 07-19-2015, 09:27 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Bob Miller View Post
...Some time back one of the builders actually stated that LP in an RV was inherently dangerous, for what ever reason, but no definitive proof or statistical evidence was ever offered.
...
I wondered why my ears were burning.

LP
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Old 07-19-2015, 09:37 PM   #16
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Some time back one of the builders actually stated that LP in an RV was inherently dangerous, for what ever reason, but no definitive proof or statistical evidence was ever offered.
I would say that LP's in an RV being inherently dangerous can be attributed to the physical properties of propane itself related to fire danger. In the fire service the term BLEVE refers to Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion, so with any RV fire that has LP tanks on the unit this creates an especially dangerous situation for both civilians as well as firefighters.
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Old 07-19-2015, 10:17 PM   #17
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Ellpea, you're just collateral damage here. I never meant for my post to be so inflammatory.
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Old 07-19-2015, 10:41 PM   #18
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Ellpea, you're just collateral damage here. I never meant for my post to be so inflammatory.
Civilguy, I'm sure you have the best of intentions. However, am busy reading up on how to be more inherently dangerous than I already am, and wondering how the builders found out about this before I did, so have no time to worry about being collateral damage.

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Old 07-19-2015, 11:46 PM   #19
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Reading this thread got me thinking. Does anybody remember having a gas heater in their car. It siphoned off gas from the carburetor to burn in a separate heater. Heat came on in 10 seconds. No waiting for engine to warm up.
Yup, had a gasoline heater in my 1963 VW bug. That sucker put out an AMAZING amount of heat; exhaust was out the right front wheel well. IF it didn't fire up you just replaced the spark plug!
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:28 AM   #20
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One thing I did in my vintage camper was to put in GFCIs on both circuits. These don't generally save you from fires, but they can do a fine job of saving you from an electrical shock. Planning ahead to arc-fault breakers (which may happen sooner, rather than later, as I noticed that one of my stock breakers was a little slow to trip when I tested it), I used plug-in GFCIs on the first outlet in both daisy chains.

As I was explaining it to my 10 year old son, "you already know that 'water and electricity don't mix.' Now look around you and tell me where there is electricity that isn't close enough to water that you couldn't touch both at the same time..."

Fuel fired heaters are alive and well and used in really cold climates on things like military trucks, by the way. They tend to have multiple safety systems and timed blower runs after shutoff to purge combustion gases.
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