Soon-to-be grey nomads see dreams go up in smoke

Published: August 5, 2021
Caravan fire

The caravanning dreams of a pair of soon-to-be grey nomads has gone up in smoke.

Queensland-based retirees Max and Barbara Collins were three weeks away form heading out on a big trip to the Northern Territory when their $120,000 caravan was destroyed by fire.

The van was parked outside their house at Pelican Waters on the Sunshine Coast when disaster struck.

Crews from Caloundra Fire Station rushed to the scene and, while they were able to save a nearby house from major damage, the caravan was completely destroyed.

“I’ve never seen anything go up so fast,” a devastated Mr Collins told the Courier-Mail. “A million miles an hour. It was huge …  I tried to use a fire extinguisher on it, but it was useless.”

The couple said they had paid $120,000 for the van and then spent an additional $20,000 getting it all set up for their big adventure.

Caloundra station officer Greg Scarlett said the cause of the blaze was believed to be a battery pack hooked up to a solar power system.

“It destroyed the van but it’s good we were able to save the house and no one was hurt,” Mr Scarlett told the Courier-Mail. “There were some gas cylinders which were under threat from the fire.”

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Possum.
5 months ago

It’s about time that ACCC got serious about investigating problems with new caravans, before people are killed.

KEVIN TIMMS
5 months ago

Fire is the one thing that concerns me with our van. Caravans by their nature use a lot of light materials such as foam insulation and plywood. I made sure the van we bought had large side windows we could use to escape if we couldn’t reach the door to get out.
I really feel for these poor people. They having nothing to salvage. It’s gone like their dreams.

Lori Nash
5 months ago

Would like to know what sort of brand system they were running to try an avoid using that in the future & hope the caravan manufacturer have been informed to investigate not good on a brand new van cost big bucks.

Andy
5 months ago
Reply to  Lori Nash

Brand may not be the faulty factor.
Only takes one loose or poor electrical connection.
Poor connection means more resistance. Resistance creates heat, enough heat causes a fire.

Geoff
5 months ago
Reply to  Andy

This was my parents van, they were pretty sure it was a faulty inverter / charger. They investigated with the fire crews and it looks inverter failed then the solar panels were sending full power to the batteries and they overheated and caught fire. They were lithium batteries. When my old man initially went into the van when it first caught fire, the batteries were spitting flames everywhere and the fire extinguisher did absolutely nothing he had to just run off and let it burn.

Liam
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff

Geoff, sorry to hear about your dad’s van, it would be interesting to know if the batteries were been charged with the solar charger and mains power charger at the same time as lithium batteries are susceptibility to thermal runaway when over charged. I have AGM batteries and regularly have both chargers on at the same time without ever checking if the voltage goes above 14.4 Volts

Billr
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff

Lithium Batteries are deadly fire hazards even with all the hype and fuzzy marketing about lightness and output any RC modeller knows to really respect these potential fire grenades.

Tony Lee
5 months ago
Reply to  Billr

Ill informed comment unless the battery was not LiFePO4.
Regardless of what was charging it, the inbuilt battery bms should have disconnected the battery.

Poppyruss
5 months ago
Reply to  Billr

Regular Batteries melt down and burn to if overheated. Definitely not a regular LiFePO4 thing. There are cheap Lithium batteries on web that have concrete and tiles in the box to offset the super cheap lightweight internals and fool buyers. Some people build their own batteries too, without any certification. So quality tested regulators and chargers along with proven batteries and certified installation is the key.

Paul
5 months ago
Reply to  Billr

I had an RC helicopter burst into flames in flight from a battery failure. Although it destroyed the chopper it was a spectacular blaze as it came out of the sky spraying flame and white hot particles everywhere. No wonder the caravan couldn’t survive when the battery failed.

Kevin
5 months ago
Reply to  Billr

Lipo Lithiums are a totally different battery chemistry to LifePo4 Lithiums.
Life’s are far safer than Lipo’s and as safe if not safer the lead acid batteries which can explode from overcharging and internally shorted cells spraying acid everywhere causing as much if not more serious damage.
You need to do more research befure putting up info like this.
I’ve had Lithiums (LifePo4’s) for 7 yrs of our 18 yrs of Fulltime Caravanning around the country without an issue.

Johnb
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff

Yep that was my first thought faulty regulator on the panels or charging system. It can happen anytime any where when left unattended or asleep. Lesson is dont leave batteries on charge unattended or for longer than needed. And auto electricians or the bloke down the road s no guarantee the wiring is up to spec. Really glad to hear your folks didnt get hurt.

Robert Murray
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff

That is typical of a lithium battery fire, almost impossible to extinguish.

Jim Klein
5 months ago
Reply to  Geoff

I am sorry to hear about the loss of your caravan.

Lithium batteries are fantastic, being light, fast to charge and last a long time, but they are not exactly equal to lead acid batteries. You cannot just take out lead acid batteries and replace them with lithium. This applies to hooking up solar panels intended for lead acid batteries to a lithium system. the voltage going into a lithium battery should never exceed about 14.5 volts, and bulk charging voltage is at about 13.5. Lead acid batteries can operate at charge voltages of over 15v. The actual maximum voltages vary slightly depending on brand. If the maximum voltage is exceeded for long enough, then they will catch fire.

If a vehicle is fitted with lithium batteries by the manufacturer, all the requirements should be met. If solar panels are added later, the regulator attached to them must also be set up for lithium batteries.

I am not an auto electrician, but I hope this information will keep other lithium battery users safe.

Liam
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim Klein

Jim has nailed the issue, most people are unaware they need to upgrade the solar charger and mains charger when going from AGM to Lithium or installing a Battery management system that manages these inputs to gives a lithium profile output.

Robert Tilbury
5 months ago
Reply to  Andy

when i did my apprentiship as a sparky the first thing they taught us was .”LOOSE WIRES CAUSE FIRES”

Gary
5 months ago

Be interesting to know where the solar work was done as mine caught fire last year due to a solar issue to that I had got done

Trevor W.
5 months ago

Might not be the fault of the caravan manufacturer. $20,000 of renovations/modifications were done including batteries and solar system.
Cause could have been due to these, faulty products, faulty installation. One may never know. Feel for the owners. Hope they were insured.

Christine
5 months ago

I am relieved that this happened BEFORE and not after they were on their trip – could have been much worse an ending – be safe & I hope your insurance covers the damage

John
5 months ago

Did you have a lithium batt pack ?

Margaret Roche
5 months ago

Fire is my fear.just asking a question, when you add other things to your van eg. Solar, heating or TV Anthea, aren’t you supposed to inform your insurances company so as to add them to the policy. Hope they were insurance.

NellH
5 months ago

Friends of ours had both their caravan and tow vehicle catch fire and be totally destroyed going up the Toowoomba range last year. Fire investigator believes sub standard wiring was to blame but difficult to prove becuae it all turned to liquid. New wiring done on the car only 2 days before to connect new van. Auto electricians also have some responsibilities in these situations too.

Tony Lee
5 months ago
Reply to  NellH

First page of the “I want to be a fire investigator” instruction manual states “If you haven’t a clue, just blame an electrical fault”

Peter Hancock
5 months ago

Solar Upgrades: Not saying this was the cause however just food for thought; When I Upgraded the solar on my van, I was sure to also include heavier guage wiring in the system. The inital 160w, I found had thin guage wire – more Watts on the roof = more Amps.

Ian Phillips
5 months ago

Our van had the 240V wiring imbedded in the foam. These cables are protected by a 15A circuit breaker which means they could have to carry up to 23 Amps. According to ASNZ3000, when carrying 6 amps they would reach 90C. In other words if the hot water and the air conditioner came on at the same time, it could have caused a fire. I have now had it completely rewired.

Jose
5 months ago

We bought a USA import van and were required to install an extra door to meet Aussie regulations. It gives us two full exit doors, one in the living area and the other in the bedroom. It is an extra emergency safety feature and also provides good cross breeze on a hot day. We’re glad of it.

Nomad 1946
5 months ago

I have serious concerns re the safety of lithium batteries …. I see zero guarantee of their fire resistance. Case in point the continuing fire in Victoria’s batteries (Dan Andrews per project to support ailing power generation) … Tesla crap.

Steve
5 months ago

Regarding the comment from Kevin above. I always make sure I have something placed under our bedroom windows outside to make egress easier if we have to leave via our large bedroom windows. Just in case there is a fire or other issue preventing escape via the door at the other end of our van. Haven’t had to leave that way but you never know.

Peter
5 months ago

I think that Nomad 1946 makes a very valid point. There are increasing examples of lithium battery fires – in cars and fixed battery storage systems. These fires are extremely hot and cannot be extinguished and are left to burn themselves out, totally destroying any evidence of the cause. The big battery fire near Geelong was burning for nearly a week with air quality warnings for down-wind areas.. Makes me wary about installing storage batteries on my home solar system.

David curmi
5 months ago

All vans or RV are really time bombs if not maintained . Gas ,electrical
wires and if not checked regularly shake whilst moving and come loose and create havoc. I got one am amazed that we don’t have slot more incidents or maybe we do but we don’t really hear to the full extent. Safe travels and keep and regular eye on thing around ya rig .

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