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Old 09-17-2022, 04:19 PM   #1
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Refer fire...

It's been a little over a month since I got the call from our storage unit manager that our 2004 Safari Panther motorhome had caught fire the night before. It was in a covered sprinkled area and the fire dept was right next door, so they put the fire out quickly. Still, it caused quite a bit of damage.

It started in the refrigerator which I had foolishly and ignorantly left plugged in and had operating for the few weeks between short trips. If I had known then what I have learned since about the frequency of these fires and the tools available to prevent them, I would have done things differently. I have no idea if any of the recalls had been performed. I'm still having a hard time believing that the risk of these fires is allowed to continue.

We had it a little over a year and had been working on getting all of the mechanicals, RV systems and visual upgrades done for what we hoped would be a future full-time home for an undetermined season of our lives. Replacing the RV frig with a residential refer was on the list, but mostly because of better function and efficiency.

Now we are trying to determine if we should repair it or let the insurance company total it and move on. It's a pretty unique coach with all of the features we wanted. It's in excellent mechanical condition and drove like a dream. I had been considering a full paint job and some other interior and system upgrades, so we have some cash to add to the insurance settlement for the repairs. I'm trying to avoid having it totaled and having a branded title for what is mostly cosmetic damage.

Anyway, wanted you all to know that, yes there was another RV fire. [Mod Edit]
Greg
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Old 09-17-2022, 04:53 PM   #2
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Sorry to hear of your loss but be thankful it wasn't worse.

I have to say I'm a bit amazed that so many remain unaware of the RV (absorption) fridge fire danger and the associated recalls of Norcold & Dometic fridges. Not just you as a new owner - apparently the former owner ignored the risk and did nothing. And if you bought through a dealer, how can they justify passing that risk on to a new owner? They cannot claim ignorance of the issue and the recalls.

If you repair the coach and don't change to a residential fridge right away, please add a Fridge Defend monitor to protect you and the fridge itself.
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Old 09-17-2022, 05:27 PM   #3
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Sorry this happened to you. It's very unfortunate. How to proceed is a difficult call and depends on the extent of damage and how much you like the rig, and what a similar replacement would cost.

The reason for the continued use of these types of refrigerators is that they work for what they are used for. Remember, there's millions and millions of these things on the road and statistically fires are quite rare, some like the one I swapped out in our rig in 2019, still working in spite of the fact it was over 20 years old. I've been full timing for over two years now, stayed at over 100 campgrounds, have seen thousands of RVs on the road and camping, and only once seen a fire first hand. That one obviously started in the engine of the tow vehicle and spread back to the 5th wheel. One should understand that a lot of "reports" of fires caused by absorption fridges are speculative in nature because rarely is a fire inspector called in to determine the actual cause of the fire. Something a simple as a loose screw in an outlet powering the fridge can cause a fire in the refrigerator compartment. While the impulse is to blame a failed boiler, it's just as likely an electrical short can cause the fire. I remember reading somewhere that one of the biggest causes of household fires was from refrigerators so who knows, if RV manufacturers abandoned absorption for residential, and there were millions and millions on the road, would there still be refrigerator fires? Dunno.

I certainly agree manufacturers should employ some sort of safety device to prevent overheated boiler from failing, but like any product, it's a cost/benefit decision that the manufacturer makes. I think a device is a god idea because I've seen a lot of RVs in parks that are obviously off level. There's a lot of owners who buy an RV and never look at the manual. They park, and expect everything to work just like it does at home.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
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Old 09-17-2022, 05:34 PM   #4
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Not knowing the specific damages would make the decision difficult for an outsider, however that vintage Panther is a beautiful machine and thus I'd be inclined to fix it. I'm a fan of absorption fridges so I'd just replace yours and add the defend feature as other posters have mentioned in the past. As an aside, I'd reconsider the practice of leaving things on in between trips. Good luck and report back on your progress!
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Old 09-17-2022, 05:43 PM   #5
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Curious about how it was powered during storage and also, were any adjacent units damaged by your fire?
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Old 09-17-2022, 11:37 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TandW View Post
Curious about how it was powered during storage and also, were any adjacent units damaged by your fire?
It was plugged into shore power. Very minimal damage to the adjacent unit because of the fire sprinklers in the storage facility. Could have so much worse for us if it had been in my shop. Probably the whole thing would have burned. As it turned out the fire dept probably did more damage getting into it than the fire itself.
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Old 09-18-2022, 07:44 AM   #7
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If on shore power the fridge should have been also.
So we can have fridge fires when on in automatic with shore power?
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Old 09-18-2022, 08:43 AM   #8
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Refrigerator Recalls

I see your RV is a 2004
Both Dometic and Norcold had recalls in 2006 as I recall due to the number of fridge fires.

Norcold installed a black box high center, clipped to one of the tubes.. and dometic a shield and a thermal circuit breaker (push to reset) on the Chimmney part.

Did you have the recall done?
(Just asking.)

I won't likely return to this thread. So I won't see your answer
In any case YOU are the one who needs to "See" the answer.
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Old 09-18-2022, 11:20 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TandW View Post
If on shore power the fridge should have been also.
So we can have fridge fires when on in automatic with shore power?
Electrical fire from wiring getting overheated due to RV MFG lousy installation
*overheated due to lose wire connections or wiring run to close to flue w/o heat shielding

Wood fire due to lack of proper heat shielding of flue gasses


Fridge fire........sure!
It was in/around/connected to fridge area
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Old 09-18-2022, 11:36 AM   #10
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Most non-residential RV fridges use the same system when on shore power, except the heat source is an electric heater and not a propane flame.

Our electrical heater failed and the boiler overheated. Our Fridge Defend turned the Fridge off and alerted us. Maybe the Fridge Defend saved our RV.
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Old 09-18-2022, 02:59 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TandW View Post
If on shore power the fridge should have been also.
So we can have fridge fires when on in automatic with shore power?
That's correct. It's the same problem, no matter if it's propane or electricity powering the refrigerator.
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Old 09-18-2022, 03:04 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astrnmrtom View Post
Sorry this happened to you. It's very unfortunate. How to proceed is a difficult call and depends on the extent of damage and how much you like the rig, and what a similar replacement would cost.

The reason for the continued use of these types of refrigerators is that they work for what they are used for. Remember, there's millions and millions of these things on the road and statistically fires are quite rare, some like the one I swapped out in our rig in 2019, still working in spite of the fact it was over 20 years old. I've been full timing for over two years now, stayed at over 100 campgrounds, have seen thousands of RVs on the road and camping, and only once seen a fire first hand. That one obviously started in the engine of the tow vehicle and spread back to the 5th wheel. One should understand that a lot of "reports" of fires caused by absorption fridges are speculative in nature because rarely is a fire inspector called in to determine the actual cause of the fire. Something a simple as a loose screw in an outlet powering the fridge can cause a fire in the refrigerator compartment. While the impulse is to blame a failed boiler, it's just as likely an electrical short can cause the fire. I remember reading somewhere that one of the biggest causes of household fires was from refrigerators so who knows, if RV manufacturers abandoned absorption for residential, and there were millions and millions on the road, would there still be refrigerator fires? Dunno.

I certainly agree manufacturers should employ some sort of safety device to prevent overheated boiler from failing, but like any product, it's a cost/benefit decision that the manufacturer makes. I think a device is a god idea because I've seen a lot of RVs in parks that are obviously off level. There's a lot of owners who buy an RV and never look at the manual. They park, and expect everything to work just like it does at home.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
If you believe what you read from some on these forums every RV should have an over-heating protection system and or a fire suppression system. Some others say the odds of it happening are miniscule. All I can say is I assumed the odds were low, but it happened to us. We are not full timers yet, so we have our regular lives to keep up and thought we were taking reasonable precautions. I wish I had done more.
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Old 09-18-2022, 03:04 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TandW View Post
If on shore power the fridge should have been also.
So we can have fridge fires when on in automatic with shore power?
Quote:
Originally Posted by PT-Tech View Post
That's correct. It's the same problem, no matter if it's propane or electricity powering the refrigerator.

Cooling unit leak allows hydrogen and ammonia to be exposed to open flame when on propane.

On electric...resistance heater in a metal holder. So unless there is an electrical short how does fridge fire occur when on AC?
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Old 09-18-2022, 03:45 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Old-Biscuit
Cooling unit leak allows hydrogen and ammonia to be exposed to open flame when on propane.

On electric...resistance heater in a metal holder. So unless there is an electrical short how does fridge fire occur when on AC?
I'd imagine the 800+ degree temps from an overheated boiler ignite the surrounding wood and plastics. Lord knows there have been enough pics published of scorched wood after absorption fridges were removed for some other reason. The ARP Fridge Defend people have some nice graphs of how high the temps get just from off-level operation without a leak.

With the propane burner only being lit when needed, I'd think an ammonia hydrogen mix from a leak would dissipate rather quickly. It's also not a massive amount of gasses. Once the ammonia and hydrogen are burned off, which probably would happen quickly, there's no fuel other than the surrounding structure.

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