Practical tips on fire safety

Some basic planning can make your holiday safer for your family and others on site. Sammy Faircloth (with help from the Club’s Health & Safety Team) reports

Fires in leisure vehicles are thankfully very rare (from 2017 to 2020 there were 14 fires involving caravans and motorhomes on Club sites) but nevertheless safety should always be at the forefront of your mind. 

Unfortunately relatively few caravanners have a fire extinguisher or fire blanket on board, perhaps put off by cost or the fact that these items have expiry dates and periodically need replacing. However, you only have to witness a leisure vehicle going up in smoke once (even if it’s just a demonstration) to see how important it is to be properly equipped. 

Most leisure vehicle fires are caused by barbecues and cooker hobs. I remember watching a fire service demonstration, during which half a cup of water was poured onto a chip-pan fire in an attempt to extinguish it. The resulting ball of fire (which exploded safely out of the fire service’s open-sided trailer) was enough to put anyone off chips for life.

Personal safety equipment

Like many safety-conscious owners, I carry a portable fire extinguisher and fire safety blanket in my caravan. To comply with British Standard (BS) EN3 (which applies to pressurised canisters), all fire extinguishers must be predominantly red and colour-coded with a 5% band that reflects the fire-suppressing agent they contain. For example, red is water, a cream band indicates foam, blue is dry powder and black is carbon dioxide (CO2). The table below shows the classifications of different fires and extinguishers needed to combat them.

Note that sometimes there are restrictions on where extinguishers can be used. For example, dry powder should not be used in a confined space, like a caravan. Therefore, the Club often recommends using aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) as an effective alternative.

Firetool Safety manufactures extinguishers that work on all types of fires including flammable liquids and gases, electrical fires, and cooking oils and fats. Its JE50 Fire Extinguisher is lightweight (500g) and compact (24 x 5cm), so is perfect for leisure vehicles. 

Fire extinguishers generally have a life expectancy of between three and five years, depending on the manufacturer. The expiry date will be checked and noted on the relevant paperwork as part of an Approved Workshop Scheme service on your caravan or motorhome. Meanwhile, a fire blanket is an excellent investment for those who regularly use cooking oils and fats (especially for deep-frying) on board. These can be purchased from many caravan accessory shops as well as shop.camc.com. 

 

Class Fire type Extinguishers
Class A Organic materials (eg wood, paper and textiles) Water, foam, dry powder
Class B Flammable liquids (eg petrol, diesel, paints) Foam, dry powder, CO2
Class C Flammable gases (eg propane and butane) Dry powder
Class D Flammable metals (eg lithium) M28/L2
Electrical Electrical equipment Dry powder, CO2
Class F Cooking oils and fats Foam, CO2, fire blanket

Smoke alarms

It is a condition of the National Caravan Council manufacturers’ product approval scheme that a battery-operated smoke alarm is fitted into all new touring caravans and motorhomes (the requirement is related to manufacturers rather than dealers). Regardless of where you make your purchase, check whether an alarm has been installed – if not you should buy one (they are readily available from camping shops as well as shop.camc.com). Regularly test your smoke alarm, simply by pressing the ‘test’ button. All smoke alarms have an expiry date on the back. After this date the whole unit must be replaced. 

Club site safety

All Club sites provide fire extinguishers, fire buckets, meeting points and fire alarms. In fact, at any location on site you should always be within 90m of a fire point. It is good practice to locate these facilities; upon arrival at a site, we always take a stroll around to familiarise ourselves with the nearest service points and fire equipment.

To avoid the spread of fire, the Club requires a 6m gap between the facing walls of adjacent leisure vehicles. There must also be 3m between adjoining cars/awnings/tents in any direction. These gaps allow unimpeded exit in the case of fire, and provide access for emergency services staff. In most instances the gaps will prevent fire spreading between vehicles, but in severe circumstances and in windy conditions even six metres may be insufficient.

What to do in the event of a fire:

  1. Evacuate everyone as quickly as possible.
  2. Call 999.
  3. If you tackle the fire yourself, make sure that you use the correct extinguisher for the type of fire (see opposite). Only tackle the fire if it is safe to do so.
  4. Inform the site staff – someone will need to operate the barrier when emergency services arrive.
  5. Evacuate neighbouring leisure vehicles.
  6. Encourage onlookers to move away in case of exploding gas cylinders

Final thoughts

The Club’s number one priority is the safety of its members. Vigorous risk assessments are carried out on a rolling basis, in conjunction with the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service Head Office. 

In the event of a fire your first priority should be to evacuate everyone from the vehicle – never put your life at risk. 

Please see page 640 of the 2021/22 Sites Directory & Handbook for further information on fire precautions.

 

Information

Barbecues are permitted on Club sites unless a notice to the contrary is displayed. However, do not leave barbecues unattended and make sure spent charcoal is properly cooled down before discarding.