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Missoula Rural Fire concerned after 'surge' in RV and motor home fires

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Fire truck

A fire damaged a home in Boulder on Sunday.

After a recent cluster of motor home and RV fires near Missoula, the rural fire district has called on the community to take better care in avoiding these types of burns during the winter months.

Since Oct. 26 the Missoula Rural Fire Department has responded to four motor home or RV fires, three of which resulted in minor injuries to the occupants, according to a release from the department.

"While motorhomes and RV's are normally associated with the summer months, more and more people are using motor homes year-round," Captain Ron Lubke said in a press release Monday. "Some people are using them as temporary and event permanent housing."

Fires tend to spread rapidly in RVs and motor homes because of the limited area and lightweight interior finishes, Lubke said. Fires tend to start in the cooking area most often, he said, while the engine area is the second most  common place these fires ignite.

The MRFD offered these safety tips to avoid motor home and RV fires:

  • Never leaving cooking unattended. 
  • Never leave appliances that are plugged in and on unattended.
  • Turn off overhead exhaust fans when you leave the vehicle.
  • Don't leave 12-volt lights on. Keep clothing and other burnable things away from them (like in storage spaces).
  • If the flame on your galley stove goes out while in use, unless you have run out of fuel, the gas will continue to flow and could result in an explosion. Turn off the stove and air out the space before trying to relight. 
  • Keep all combustibles — from paper towels to curtains — far enough away from your stove so that they cannot catch fire. 
  • Gasoline and propane can pose an immediate, explosive danger. Deal at once with any leaks or spills and use all fuels in areas that are vented adequately. Operate your generator in an area where gasoline fumes cannot reach an ignition source.
  • RVs often have very limited numbers of electrical outlets, and sometimes occupants use power strips to plug in more things. Don't overload the electrical outlets. Circuit breakers don't always prevent overloads from starting fires.
  • It's best to never use an extension cord in an RV. If you must, make sure you use a heavy-duty extension cord, and make sure the load you put on it is well within its safe load capacity. Don't run any electrical cord under a carpet or floor mat. 
  • Have your RVs' brakes checked. A dragging brake can create enough friction to ignite a tire or brake fluid.
  • Bouncing down the road can loosen electrical connections, which can produce heat and, in turn, fire. Make sure all electrical connections are tight. 
  • Check all 12-volt connections. Many RV fires are caused by a 12-volt short.
  • Leaking fluids in the engine compartment can ignite. Check all hoses for firmness, clamp tightness and signs of leaking. Have repairs made if needed. 
  • Have working smoke detectors that are properly located. 
  • Have working fire extinguishers in the right places and know how to use them.
  • Be able to get out of your RV from any location quickly. Know how to use the emergency exit windows and make sure they are accessible.
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