1976 Palm Beach





Click here to see my Updated Fire Extinguisher Page


The Great GMC Fire of June 11, 2001

Last night I was on my way to Three Rivers, Michigan for a  planned day of work and then planned on continuing on to Muncie, Indiana for more work.

About 12:30AM, near Ann Arbor, Michigan, the engine in my coach suddenly stopped.  I was unable to restart so I pulled off onto the shoulder.  As I slowed I could see considerable smoke in the headlights.  I stopped, grabbed my large fire extinguisher and exited the coach.  Behind the passenger side wheel well  I could see a fire.  I partly discharged the extinguisher at the fire and it seemed go out..  I went in and opened the engine cover and there was another small fire.  I emptied the extinguisher and was successful in getting all of the fire out.  There was a considerable amount of smoke now in the coach.  However, I started up my two Fantastic fans and they did a great job of removing the smoke.

I communicated with the RV Alliance dispatcher from my cell phone and they sent a tow truck out within 30 minutes.  By now it was close to 1:30AM.  The service towed me 125 miles to Sandusky, Michigan and in to Buskrik's lot. This at no charge!

When we arrived, I was met by Max Pardy!  He was returning from Tennessee where he had picked up a very nice stretch GMC for some work.  It was a coincidence that he arrived at the same time I did but very nice to have the General Manager of the business on hand to advise me at that time of night.

I spent what was left of the night in the coach.  Max was back at 8AM. We still don't know for sure what caused the fire, but it was not caused by an oil leak as I had originally feared.  That small fire took out the distributor and wires on the passenger side (that was what made it quit suddenly), all the vacuum and water hoses and the cruise control components.  There was some charring of the hatch cover.  Not really a lot of damage considering what could have happened.

The insurance company is involved now as Max thinks this will be covered.  They will probably replace the distributor, repair or replace all the wiring and assorted hoses and tubes.  They will probably also have to replace the cruise control with an electronic unit because they can't get replacement parts at a reasonable cost for the OEM unit any more.

Max is really a great guy!  He not only made me feel very comfortable and secure during my impromptu visit, he even drove me all the way home.  We are 95 miles from Sandusky.   You know it is not likely that I will be paying Buskirk $200,000 for a stretch conversion for my GMC any time soon, but Max made me feel like I was as important to him as the stretch customer.  I really appreciate that.

It could have been much  worse.  I am very lucky.

So far these are my recommendations on what to do to prevent this type of fire and what to do if you have a fire:

bulletIf you suspect that you have a fire, immediately pull over and stop the coach.
bulletEvacuate everyone from the coach before doing anything else!
bulletOn your way out of the coach, grab a fire extinguisher only if easily accessible.
bulletMake sure that you have several good fire extinguishers that work and that you can reach easily in the dark (I had three in the coach and I had to find the one I used in the dark).
bulletPractice using the fire extinguishers and if necessary contact your local fire department for assistance in learning how to use a fire extinguisher (I learned with my Boy Scout troop how to properly use a fire extinguisher about two years ago)
bulletA functioning cell phone with charged batteries (mine was not working properly because of over spray from the fire extinguisher so I could not have called the fire department from the road).
bulletBefore each trip, and especially after the motorhome has been sitting idle, open the engine compartment and make a through visual inspection.
bulletLook under the air cleaner and around the exhaust manifolds for combustible material. 
bulletMake sure there isn't anything that can catch fire e in the engine compartment.
bulletMake sure your engine oil and transmission oil cooler lines and fittings are in good shape. 
bulletHave towing insurance that will take you coach to a qualified repair facility, not just the closest RV repair location  (the RV Alliance service took me to Sandusky 120 miles away, but at first they wanted me to go someplace close by).
bulletHave a location in mind where you will have your motorhome towed in case it becomes necessary (I knew in advance that my coach would be going to Sandusky if ever I had problems on the road).
bulletHave the phone numbers and insurance policy numbers handy.  I had this stuff stored in my laptop computer. 

I am not the only one that has had a recent fire:

Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001 07:03:44 EDT
To: gmcmotorhome@mailinglists.org
Subject: Re: GMC: I had another coach fire last night!


Sorry to hear of your fire. 

Your story and your pictures are VERY familiar - we had an almost identical occurrence one year ago (June 5, 2000) in our GMC. We had only bought it 3 weeks earlier. It spent the next six weeks at Buskirk-Rush getting repaired. They also did some unrelated repairs at that time.

We had the same symptoms - engine quit, then we saw smoke rolling out. Damage was very similar - wires, hoses, distributor, cruise control destroyed. Ours occurred 2 miles from home (but 235 miles from Buskirk.) One big difference - I didn't have a fire extinguisher (big dummy!). I believe our damage would 
have been much less if I had had one.

You shouldn't have any problems with RV Alliance. They covered all our fire damage repairs, and our policy was less than a month old. They may send an investigator to determine the cause, unless Max can determine what started it.

As near as we can determine, our fire was caused by gas leaking from the carb and pooling on top of the engine. The spark that ignited it came from a wire that the previous owner had installed to the refrigerator controls. The wire was not attached to anything, and had rubbed a bare spot against the frame.

In the article on your website you wrote: "You know it is not likely that I will be paying Buskirk $200,000 for a stretch conversion for my GMC, but Max made me feel like I was as important to him as the stretch customer. I really appreciate that."

I got the same impression the first time I met Max - that I was the only customer he had. Even though we know he deals with dozens of us GMC nuts every day, he treats us all like friends - and we do appreciate that.


Lagrange IN 74 Sequoia


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These pictures show most of the damage to the distributor, wiring, hoses and cruise control components.   We think the fire was caused by a chipmunk or mouse nest under the air cleaner that has heated to combustion by the exhaust crossover in the intake manifold. 


The 3rd picture from the left shows the charring on the engine cover caused by the fire.


In addition, I believe that the fire was accelerated by a small hole that was burned in the heater hose.  When I looked closer at the damage I found that there was a small hole in the heater hose that  pointed right at the area where most of the damage occurred.  If you look closely you can see that hole in the picture on the right.  It looks like a slit just above the "T" fitting in the hoses.  You can also see the leaves and other debris from the nest.   The nest was not visible when I had the engine cover off just a few hours before the fire.


I did some checking on the internet and found that the main component of antifreeze is listed as explosive when introduced to air.  Ethylene is alcohol under a fancy name.  Mixed with 50% water as in the case in most vehicles, it gets hot and if sprayed in vapor form, can burn at an unbelievable rate.  I read that many cars and especially R.V.'s burn because of a pin hole or small leak that atomizes the fluids and ignites on exhaust manifolds or an ignition leak.  In my case I had the manifolds and the exhaust crossover to provide the ignition as well as the dry leaves from the nest.


According to RV Alliance, the insurance company that covers my motorhome fires can be a major problem.  They also say that  antifreeze can burn.


The following fire facts are from  RV Alliance's  page devoted to RV Safety


1 A pinhole-size leak in a radiator or heater hose can spray antifreeze on hot engine parts. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol concentrate and water. When the water boils off, the remaining ethylene glycol can self-ignite at 782 degrees F. During your monthly fire inspection, check all hoses for firmness, clamp tightness, and signs of leaking.

3 A hard-working engine manifold can get as hot as 900 degrees F. The heavy insulation in the compartment reflects the heat back to the top of the engine, and a fire can easily break out. Inspect your radiator and have any problems repaired by a qualified person as soon as possible.

4 Grease, oil, and road dust build up on the engine and transmission, making them run hotter. The grime itself usually doesn't burn, but if combined with a fuel leak or short-circuited wire, a fire could start. Keep your coach's underpinnings clean, and it will run cooler, more economically, and longer

7 A hot exhaust pipe or catalytic converter can ignite dry grass.

15 Develop a plan of action before a fire occurs.

25 You should have five fire extinguishers for your coach--one by the front door, one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, one outside of the coach in an unlocked compartment, and one in your tow vehicle. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguishers and understand which extinguishers are effective on various fires.

31 The first rule of RV firefighting is to save lives first and property second. Get yourself and your family to safety before attempting to extinguish a fire. Only if you can do so without endangering yourself or others should you use firefighting aids on hand.

33 It's crucial to know your location so firefighters can find you.

Therefore I think the fire was started by the nesting material over the hot exhaust crossover passage in in the intake manifold.  That initial fire burned through the heater hose causing a small antifreeze leak.  The antifreeze caught on fire and it was the burning antifreeze that caused most of the damage.



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The tow truck operator sent by RV Alliance preparing to tow my coach some125 miles to Sandusky.  Instead of putting it on a flatbed, which I would have preferred, they towed it by raising the front wheels.  It worked out fine, even though I was pretty nervous during the tow.  I kept looking back half expecting to see my GMC missing.  It was always there for the couple of hours it took to get to our destination.    It was pretty weird seeing the front end of the old  girl , illuminated only by the tow truck's tail lights, bobbing and weaving as the tow truck moved down the road.  The driver, a nice personable kid of about 25, claimed that he did this sort of thing all the time.  Of course, this was my first time and I sure hope this was the last time I have to have my GMC towed!



This picture shows the trail of anti-freeze that leaked from someplace in the engine.  It was probably from a burned radiator or heater hose.  The tow truck operator said he could see the trail for quite a distance as he pulled up behind the motorhome.  I've heard that anti-freeze can catch fire under some circumstances.  I think happened to me!



4:15 AM Arrival in Sandusky.  Shortly after we arrived we were surprised to see a very nice "stretch" GMC pull in.  I figured that this was just another customer coming in very early for service.  A few minutes later Max Pardy walked up to me.  Max is Buskirk-Rush RV's general manager.  He was the driver of the "stretch" and he said he was there to take care of me.  Now how's that for service?



Springfield Ignition

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06/26/2001 -I picked up my repaired coach today.  It took a little over two weeks to get me on the road again after the fire.  Most of that time was spent waiting on RV Alliance to send up an appraiser to check on the damage to my coach.  Once Buskirk had the approval from the insurance company to go ahead with the repairs it was only a few days later that I was able to get my unit back.


The picture on the left shows the various components that were destroyed by the fire.  The picture in the middle shows the repairs. Notice the new Springfield Ignition distributor and the new "8mm premium high performance silicone custom fit plug wires".  This new distributor gives me a "custom build BLUE PRINTED high performance H.E.I. ignition" for my GMC.  I'm not really sure what this all means, but I think it means that  I have a better ignition now than I had before the fire.


The picture on the right is the report that came with my new distributor that shows its specifications.  This distributor was setup for my particular application, even taking into consideration my new 3.42 final drive.


Not visible is the new Rostra electronic cruise control


I think I gained here over the OEM components that were ruined by the fire.


I was treated very well by everyone at Buskirk-Rush, especially Max Pardy!  Dick Paterson helped out by personally delivering my new distributor and ignition wires.  Springfield Ignition is Dick's company and he is a fellow GMC owner.  RV Alliance came through for me as well.  I would recommend them all.



Page was last modified:  09/04/2009 12:32:19 PM