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Old 02-11-2014, 03:43 PM   #1
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Unhappy Battery Compartment Fire

Folks, the wife and I had an unfortunate and somewhat unnerving experience recently in our motorhome. We experienced a fire in the battery compartment. Two of the house batteries, which were in series, burned.

I'm unsure as to the cause of the fire, as is the local Fire Dept. personnel, insurance adjuster, and the shop doing the repairs. The batteries were full of water, you could see the water was still covering the plates in the batteries, and the inverter appears to be working properly. The inverter is a Heart Combi 1500 watt inverter. I'm leaning towards a defective or shorted battery.

Anyone have any ideas or suggestions as to what may nave caused the fire? The system heat was on at the time. Both the burned batteries, two year old Interstate U2200 replacements, were still holding a charge after the fire, so I don't think the charger cooked the batteries.

As a side note, although I know I'm preaching to the choir, make sure you have a good working fire extinguisher in your rig. we did, and it saved our bacon...and rig!!!
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Old 02-11-2014, 05:48 PM   #2
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A long while ago when I was flying an O-1 over Vietnam I had a battery internal short that caused a thermal run away. The battery was between my feet and after smelling something strange (pork chops frying 1500 feet above hostile territory) I reached down and found the battery almost too hot to touch with flying gloves on. I managed to cut the battery loose and throw it out the side window. The battery exploded violently about 50' under the airplane.

We subsequently found that an internal short in the battery would cause this sort of thing. Charging system and external wires in the plane all checked out fine. After checkout and replacing the battery I flew the bird without similar problems for months.
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Old 02-11-2014, 07:11 PM   #3
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An internal battery short would be my first guess. The cable condition would be my next thought followed by the quantity of connections (of any type) on the terminals. Finally, the presence of foreign objects in the space that could have prompted the short. Any of these could be the culprit.

I have four batteries in our 5er. Two in the bedroom (one on each side), one in the galley, and two in the main storage compartment (these come out when we're at a site for more than a day or two. I also have two in the truck. I have a long history of putting out fires that I happen on (three car fires in one week back in the early 80s) so I'm happy to be prepared for the worst.

Glad you and your wife were only rattled and not injured.
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Old 02-11-2014, 10:34 PM   #4
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The wife and I are very thankful we got out with out injury. The Lord was looking after us. The only non-factory item in the battery compartment was a Trick-L-Charger(sp?) connected to the chassis batteries. The battery cables looked good and I clean them every year, but they were 11 years old.

After 33 years in Public Safety I've seen several vehicle fires, several in RV's and some mobile homes. As a result of that I carry multiple fire extinguishers in the coach. As you and Pigman1 mentioned I feel it was an internal short in one of the batteries. The other two house batteries show to be good according to the shops battery/load tester. I hope that was it, don't want to go through this again, The battery compartment on our coach holds six batteries and is under the bedroom floor at the foot of our bed.
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Old 02-11-2014, 10:59 PM   #5
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Happy your OK. I have guestions , how did you put the fire out, did the battery keep burning/producing heat internally? What type of fire ext? How did you notice it was on fire? I am asking just in case it happen to me. Once again glad your OK.
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Old 02-12-2014, 12:17 AM   #6
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Mark I used the Kidde ABC type dry chemical extinguisher which came with my coach. It was mounted by the front door and was the easiest to reach. I used a back and forth sweeping motion between the two batteries to put out the fire.

We were asleep in the coach and about 4:00 a.m. I was awakened by a thump that I heard and felt. We were camped in a National Forest campground and at first I thought a limb had possibly fallen and hit the coach. A few minutes latter I heard and felt another thump. I didn't know what was happening but I knew something was wrong. I woke my wife up and told her to get dressed. As we finished dressing we saw the EMS panel flickering off and on. We grabbed our two pets and quickly got out of the coach.

After putting the pets in our car, my wife backed it out on the roadway putting the headlights on the coach, I went around to the power pedestal and turned the breakers off. As I came around the back of the coach I saw a whiff of smoke coming from the engine compartment. I quickly opened the engine compartment doors but didn't see any fire or feel any heat. So I quickly ran around to the battery compartment. When I opened that compartment, that's when I found the fire. There was no smoke or fire visible until I opened the compartment door.

My guess is the thumps I heard, and felt, were the batteries popping when the fire started. The batteries still had some charge left in them when they were taken out, but they weren't generating any heat. I had no idea the batteries were on fire or there was any type of fire until I opened the battery compartment door. I was thinking there was an A/C electrical problem at first, especially when we saw the EMS panel flashing. There was no smell of smoke or of anything burning inside the motorhome.
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Old 02-12-2014, 12:55 AM   #7
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All the battery compartment fires I've seen were caused by a dead short between a hold down bracket & a positive post. Not very many coaches have hold down systems that have clear physical dielectric separation of current carrying parts & grounded metal. Most rely on painted metal flat bar & threaded rod clamping batteries down but allow them to slide enough to be in the ballpark of a dead short. Add a little acid leakage from batteries boiling & look out. I'm surprised I don't see more of these fires.
Glad it worked out without involving more of the coach.
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Old 02-12-2014, 08:16 AM   #8
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System heat may have caused the fire as the batts generate gases that will burn when exposed to flame or heat. check for pathway from batt compartment to system heat.
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Old 02-12-2014, 09:06 AM   #9
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I'm curious. What was actually flaming, the batteries themselves or the wiring connecting the batteries?
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Old 02-12-2014, 05:54 PM   #10
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Both the wires and the battery tops were burning Joe.
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Old 02-12-2014, 06:11 PM   #11
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Fire extinguisher tip........USCG boat inspection told me to remove and shake your dry chemical extinguishers. They tent to cake and pack down making the powder difficult to spray out even though the pressure indicator is in the green.
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Old 02-12-2014, 09:41 PM   #12
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Very good tip on shaking the extinguisher. On my dry chemical extinguishers I mount them horizontally instead of vertically to help lessen the chance of compacting the dry chemical. I have photos of the fire from my iPhone, but haven't been able to get them to down load here.
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Old 02-13-2014, 06:02 AM   #13
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battery fire

I am glad you and you wife,pets are safe& the damage was not worse.
I heard that you should have several type of fire extinguishers as to some that will be used in the engine or around wiring connectors can cause damage to more systems .Any one shed more light an this.
We will be picking up our new m/h this week end it has extinguishers in the coach,but i will be adding some more out side.Just need to know what type.
Glad everyone is safe. Hope for the best,plan for the worst.
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Old 02-13-2014, 08:49 AM   #14
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Along the line of care for your fire extinguisher, there have been forum discussions on why people believe these units are "uesless" or too hard or dangerous to use on a coach fire. Obviously Bubba1 doesn't think that way and I applaud him for his quick thinking and action. I posted the following in an effort to help dispel the bad rep attitudes some have toward rig fire extinguishers. Hope it helps to convince those who are undecided.

"RE: How many fire extinguishers on-board?

Let me tell you a little story about that "useless" extinguisher by the door. We left San Antonio heading west in the wee hours of the AM (dark) and were in the hill country when I saw something very bright on the rear view camera at the rear of the RV. I immediately puled over and ran back to see what was going on. What I saw was flames 3 to 4 feet high both inside and outside the rear cap directly over the exhaust pipe. I ran to the front door (40' coach) and got the RV fire extinguisher, ran to the rear and hit the flames with it. The fire was immediately put out. As I looked further for the cause, I found that the rag I kept in the engine compartment for checking fluid levels had fallen from it's nitch where I usually kept it, and onto the hot exhaust stack. Further looking found that there was NO damage to the coach. Even the paint was unscorched and no wires or anything else beside the rag was burned. Obviously, I no longer kept an oily rag in the engine compartment, and got the extinguisher recharged later that day. Of course this was only possible because the "useless" extinguisher worked well. How many folks out there do a monthly check on their extinguisher(s) and agitate the powder to keep it flowable? Without a regular check and shake up, the extinguisher will be useless. If you don't know how to do this check, stop at your local fire station and they'll be happy to show you. A couple of minutes a month is all you need and you can check to be sure the emergency escape windows are free and operate correctly at the same time. And yes, we also carry 2 other extinguishers, a Purple K ABC large unit and a Carbon dioxide one. They all work well if properly cared for and are used the way they should be. "
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