Anyone who follows our videos has probably heard me rant about the inherent safety risks involved with camp stoves in vans or other small vehicles. Many people think of carbon monoxide when considering camp stove dangers, but a camp stove fire is also a very real risk.
I have actually had people suggest to me that camp stove fires are not a significant risk in vans and other vehicles. Unfortunately, vehicle fires triggered by camp stoves do happen and this past week a camp stove fire ended with two vehicles destroyed, one vehicle damaged, and two children critically burned. One of the young children later died from her injuries.
Operating a camp stove or heater inside a van or other small vehicle requires extra care due to potentially limited ventilation (carbon monoxide and oxygen depletion) and the difficulty of maintaining safe clearances around the heat source (fire). Open flames may obviously start a fire if any combustible material comes into contact with the flames, but any heat source – including stoves and heaters – may also ignite any combustible material that is too close to the heat source.
Curtains, wall coverings, clothing, bedding, and many other items within a camper vehicle may be combustible. Considering the close proximity of everything in a camper vehicle a fire may quickly consume the vehicle in a matter of seconds.
August 6, 2019 started like any other day at the Walmart in Fridley, Minnesota. Shoppers were busily coming and going, and those who had spent the night sleeping the Walmart parking lot were preparing for their day as well. Roberto Hipolito, 70, of Long Beach, California and his wife were among those who had slept overnight at Walmart.
Hipolito reportedly removed a camp stove from the couples minivan, cooked something on the ground, and then placed the stove back into the minivan before driving to a parking space closer to the store and going inside to shop. Hipolito’s wife remained in the couple’s van.
Shortly after Hipolito went into the Walmart, the van caught fire. Authorities believe the fire originated with the camp stove, and was likely started by some bedding that Hipolito had moved into the back of the van near the stove. Despite the fact that the stove was not turned on, it is believed that the stove was hot enough to ignite the bedding.
Hipolitos wife was able to escape the van, but did not have time to retrieve belongings that she was attempting to remove. The fire completely destroyed the couples van, but also burned vehicles on either side of their van. One of those vehicles was another minivan with two children sleeping inside while their mother was shopping in the store.
The children, 6 and 9, were both critically burned and were transported to a nearby hospital. The six-year-old died at the hospital as a result of her injuries while her sister remains in critical condition.
Hipolito has since been arrested and charged with second degree manslaughter and negligent fire.
Obviously this tragedy represents an extreme example of the risks associated with camp stove fires inside a vehicle, but it is still worth noting. Cooking outside is always the safest option when possible, but even cooking outdoors is not safe if you place a hot stove back inside the vehicle near combustible materials.
Since cooking outdoors is not always a viable option, there are steps that we can take to minimize the risk of a camp stove fire.
Camp Stove Fire Safety
- Always check all fuel connections before lighting the stove (or heater)
- Clear a safe area around the stove or heater before use (check the owner’s manual for the appliance to verify safe clearances)
- Use a heat shield around the stove to reduce the risk of fire
- Wait until the stove or heater is completely cooled before putting away or moving combustible materials near the appliance
- Keep a fire extinguisher within easy reach while using a camp stove or heater inside a vehicle – you will only have seconds to extinguish a fire once it starts
- Be sure you have a safe way to exit the vehicle in case a fire does start – do not place the stove or heater between you and the door
- Park your vehicle away from other vehicles and buildings while operating a camp stove or heater inside a vehicle to avoid the risk of a fire spreading
Camping safety does not need to be difficult, but it does require awareness of any potential risks. Stay safe and enjoy your adventures!