Australians are renowned for their love of the great outdoors – from senior Grey Nomads to the younger #vanlife movement, Aussies are camping and caravanning in greater numbers than ever before. No doubt you’ve thoroughly researched your road trip, loaded up all the necessities, and packed the recreational gear, but have you checked how safe your caravan or campervan actually is?
Fire safety is crucial in a campervan as most usually have only one escape route in the event of a fire. As modern vans and motorhomes are made of lightweight and highly combustible materials you may have only a few seconds to escape a burning caravan. Fires can accelerate rapidly, therefore receiving a warning from a photoelectric smoke detector may mean the difference between life and death.
How many smoke alarms do I need and where do I put them?
It is recommended that you have at least one working photoelectric smoke alarm inside the van where the bed is, and one also in the annex if you sleep there – the image below provides a handy visual guide. As per Australian Standard 3786:2014, the smoke alarm(s) should also have an integrated ‘hush’ button which allows it to be temporarily silenced, should the alarm be activated accidentally due to cooking smoke etc.
Am I required by law to install a smoke alarm in my campervan?
You should be aware that there is different smoke alarm legislation in every Australian state. In NSW, Victoria and the Northern Territory, regardless of where your campervan is registered, it must be fitted with a smoke alarm by law. If you are visiting South Australia and you are on-site for 60 days or longer then a smoke alarm is required by law. In all other states fire authorities strongly recommended you install a smoke alarm, however it is not mandated by legislation. Some states also offer penalties for non-compliance. i.e. in NSW this may include on the spot fines of $200, and up to $550 if the matter goes to court. Note the definition of ‘campervan’ is quite broad and also includes the following; caravans, on-site vans, park vans, annexes (with rigid sides), mobile homes, and any other type of transportable structure where people sleep.
Recent news has further highlighted the lack of mandated alarms in Australian caravans, and fatalities due to caravan fires unfortunately occur annually. Don’t allow yourself to become a statistic – the short video below contains some great caravan fire safety advice from NSW Fire and Rescue.
Caravan fire safety tips!
Keep your cylinders outside the caravan
Ensure that your cylinders in the caravan are safely maintained. Ensure that your gas cylinders are always placed outside the van and switched to the off position when not in use.
To avoid gas leaks and subsequent fire hazards, ensure that your empty cylinders are stored in an open space and locked with a strap or something similarly sturdy. Be sure to check all gas fittings and hose connections prior to each road trip as they may work free due to extended vibration when travelling.
Ensure that you check the health of all your caravan appliances, particularly high-load equipment by having them certified periodically by an electrician. Do not overload power leads, and protect them from exposure to natural elements such as rain ingress.
Avoid parking in grassy areas
When parking your caravan, avoid camp sites that have tall grass as these can easily catch fire. The same applies to parking spots with spinifex growth as the same is a fire hazard. Search instead for a cleared area.
Cooking while moving is prohibited as it is one of the major causes of fire. In addition, never leave the stove unattended when cooking inside the van. Setting up BBQ too close to the campervan itself might scatter embers or increase radiant heat levels, which could cause the awning fabric to catch fire. It is good practice to always maintain a minimum 5m distance from the caravan when cooking outside to prevent caravan fires and potential carbon monoxide poisoning.
Have fire extinguishers handy
Second only to a smoke alarm, the next most important item to prevent fire from spreading is a dry chemical powder (DCP) fire extinguisher. Make sure your extinguisher is effective at all times by ensuring it remains fully charged and is within its use by shelf life. Fire extinguishers should be available at an accessible location, typically adjacent to the exit route of the van.
To contain a small campervan fire (i.e. on the stove top), a fire blanket may suffice. Fire blankets are made of fire resistant material. Select a fire blanket that can withstand temperatures of up to 500 degrees celcius. Place the fire blanket next to your exit door. As most fire blankets have no date of expiry, they are considered durable by full-time caravanners. Do not wait until a fire occurs before opening the fire blanket for the first time – practice beforehand so you are familiar with it, and learn the correct technique to place it over a small fire without burning yourself in the process.
Complete this fire safety checklist before embarking on your next road trip adventure
- Does your campervan / caravan have a working photoelectric smoke alarm, fire extinguisher and a fire blanket located near the exit?
- Do you have an escape plan pre-prepared in case of fire? Ensure escape routes remain unobstructed.
- Check that LPG cylinders are secured correctly to the van and that all fittings and hoses are in good working order with no leaks.
- Have all electrical appliances been test and tagged by a qualified electrician?
- Ensure you turn off any pilot lights before towing or when the towing vehicle’s engine is running.
- Download the free EmergencyPlus app to your mobile phone. The app uses GPS functionality built into smart phones to help a Triple Zero (000) caller provide critical location details required to mobilise emergency services.