The Great Camper Fire of '99

The Great Camper Fire of ‘99

I don’t remember what year this actually happened. I just know it was at my fourth home when I was a kid. That would put it somewhere around 1999-2001.

When we lived at my third home my mom’s boyfriend bought an RV style camper. I’m not sure of the brand because I can’t find any pictures with it but going off my memory it looked similar to a mid-80’s Winnebago Chieftain.

There was a lakeside campground where we would go on the weekends to camp. I’ve got some good stories I’ll probably share at some point about the campground. It was pretty great.

We went there for two years. One year while living at the third home and one at the fourth. Then the camper just sat across the street from our house behind the mailbox. I don’t know if it was part of our property or if we just had permission from the town but there were no houses there because it was about 100 feet from the railroad tracks. It was just a small wooded area.

One day my mom’s boyfriend went out to the camper to start it. I would assume it had been sitting so long he was going to sell it and wanted to make sure it still ran. Then he came running into the house yelling to call the fire department.

We looked out front and there was a wall of flames coming from the hood of the camper. Black smoke filled the trees which soon ignited as well.

The fire department quickly arrived. It helped that there was a station right around the corner. We lived close to one of the two red lights in town so we were somewhat central.

As the fire department was putting the fire out our neighbors started to gather and watch. Including our there were seven houses on the street. We were right in the middle so everyone was there.

I don’t remember how long it took them to put it out but it seemed like an hour to me. When it was finally over the front end of the camper was mostly gone. The bottom of the frame was intact but there wasn’t much more. The back end of it seemed fine from the outside but I’m sure the smoke had destroyed the inside if the fire hadn’t.

It caused quite the buzz and people were asking about it at school for a few days. It would get brought up again a few more times in the couple of years after but then everyone seemed to either forget or just not care anymore.

I like to use this story as a warning not to try starting a vehicle that has been sitting for a while without checking to make sure there is nothing wrong with it first. The cause of this fire was a squirrel’s nest in the engine bay. I would guess there were some bare wires it had chewed on because I don’t think the engine actually started before it caught fire. I think he just turned the key and it went up.


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