Ol’ bushies know it – fire commands respect. Appreciate its power, but don’t let it stop you in your tracks. Caravanworld.com.au provides you with a common sense guide to fire management in your RV.
Before you leave, learn about your preferred destination. Identify which radio stations provide emergency weather broadcasts in the area you are planning to go so you can stay informed when you are on the road, and don't forget to pack a battery-operated AM-FM wireless in case you lose power.
ABC Radio National is an emergency station, but regional stations may provide you with other information. Keep the number of the appropriate fire authority handy in all phones that you are carrying.
Before you depart (or if you have internet on road) check the Bureau of Weather Meteorology website for local weather warnings. This information is found on the left hand side of the top bar.
View a sample fire weather warning here.
FIRE PLAN RV
The next item on the agenda is to develop an evacuation plan for your RV. Identify at least two exits from each living area (typically, one will lead to the inside and the other to the outside, per living space. In many cases, the outside access will be via a window). Decide upon a common spot outside your RV where everyone can meet.
When developing your plan, think about you and your co-travellers’ mobility; a few RVs are fitted with emergency escape windows or hatches which are easier to use, and some have two doors. The NSW Fire Brigades has a great tool to help you get started (you can download it here).
Once you’ve drawn up your plan, check the conditions of windows, doors and escape hatches. And when you are travelling, keep these exit points clear.
Now it's time to inspect your electrical appliances – pay special attention to the condition of your power leads. Are they frayed? Are the internal wires exposed? Having your appliances tagged and tested (where a qualified tests your appliances for polarity, earth resistance and so forth) may not be as expensive as you think, and will provide you with greater security. Make sure you carry a selection of high quality power leads of different sizes, so that you can connect one from your RV to your powered site, without coiling it or having it swing from the power supply.
Gas system should be regularly tested by an authorised gasfitter (If you're in Vic, you can find a gasfitter here). Check the washers and o-rings on your gas appliances and cylinders for wear. Before you travel, make sure that the cylinder valves are shut and are facing away from the van, and meet with current legislation.
FIRE SAFETY EQUIPMENT
It’s common law that fire safety equipment is fitted to new RVs. Which is great: if you know how to use the gear. For example, did you know that some fire extinguishers are dangerous if used to put out an electrical fire? The Exelgard website recommends BE or ABE fire extinguishers for boats and RVs and has them available to purchase online, it also has a great datasheet that shows what you can and can't use. Safety Dave has a great range of RV-related fire safety equipment as well. Fire safety blankets quell fires fuelled with cooking oils and cost little, which makes them well worth the investment.
Check fire extinguishers once every five years, and have them pressurised once they’ve been used. Be sure to test it (just a little) before you leave home. Fire extinguishes and fire blankets are best located close to the door.
Install a smoke alarm fitted with a hush button close to the bedroom. Vacuum and test it before you go and make sure the battery is in working order. Photoelectric smoke alarms are designed to detect slow smouldering fires and are less likely to cause nuisance alarms that frequently occur in confined spaces, which makes them a good choice for RVs – as long as the air stays free from dust.
AT THE CAMPSITE
As you arrive at your destination, a leisurely drive will help you locate viable exits, scout possible refuges, and spot any public phones. Avoid camping in long dry grass (not that you’d want to) and clear your site of dry twigs and other fuel. According to the Victoria’s Country Fire Association (CFA), fire fighters need at least of 2m between dwellings and 1.2m width pathways to properly do their job – so make sure there’s adequate space surrounding the outside of your RV and annexe.
Once you’re set up, inspect externally exposed connections for wear, particularly if you’ve driven on dusty or corrugated roads. Soapy water will help identify the presence of gas leaks on your cylinders – don’t use a flame.
Fire authorities urge caravan parks to provide campers with access to fire fighting equipment such as hoses and pumps. Find out whether this is available where you're staying, and if so find out where it is and ask how to use it. While you’re there, identify and agree upon a safety refuge among your companions. And if you use a generator, make sure that the fuel is safely contained or used before go home.
Campfires are a pleasurable part of our nomadic life, and are easily managed with common sense. Never light a fire on a day of Total Fire Ban. When you select a site for your fire, make sure it’s at least 3m away from any dwelling (temporary or otherwise), 4m away from vegetation, and 7.5m away from a stump.
Keep a bucket of water and spade nearby. Use a fire pit or dig a trench that’s 30cm deep, but don’t use river rocks as they can explode.
Light the fire with waterproof matches, and use tinder, such as dry leaves to start. Avoid the temptation to fan a fire with flammable liquids.
Campfires “extinguished” with sand or dirt retain heat – as much as 100°C for as long as eight hours – so instead, apply plenty of water. Bottled, dirty, salty or creek, the quality doesn’t matter. It’s best to pour it steadily to prevent embers dispersing and to wear gloves to minimise the risk of steam burn.
Finally, I’ll keep captain obvious brief: don’t turn the gas on until you’re ready to light the appliance, extinguish camp fires before going to bed, don’t cook or smoke inside a tent, don’t cover the heater, and never leave an open flame unattended.
(*keep an eye out for Allan Whiting's article on weather watching in the October 2009 edition of Caravan World with Motorhome World magazine, out September 02).
In addition to the aforementioned associations, the writer would like to acknowledge The Royal Flying Doctor Service, The NSW Rural Fire Service and Energy Safe Victoria.