Every Action has a Reaction

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By Kay Helbling

I love physics. There’s something quite amazing about the relationship between forces in the nature around us. Unfortunately, sometimes those forces cause a chain reaction with unintended consequences. Let me give you a couple of examples that deal with the large number of forest fires we find breaking out in our state every year. (As a disclaimer, I have to admit that I have a dog in this hunt. My son’s job away from college this summer is working on a forest firefighting crew.)

With all our (me included) concern for that nasty habit of smoking, the U.S. auto manufacturers no longer have ashtrays build into the vehicles as standard equipment. While we may have thought it would discourage smoking, in fact it becomes a dangerous fire hazard. As we drive, we see folks who are obviously still smoking, throwing their cigarettes out the window. What else would they do with them?

When you hear about forest fires being started by cigarettes, it makes me ponder whether the villain was driving in a car and whether removing ashtray in a car was the most rational approach to discourage smoking. While this tactic certainly did not intend an increased risk in life and property, it has. We have thousands of men and women risking their lives every day, each summer, to fight forest fires.

While on the fire line, the crew works 16 hour days, 7 days a week. They are in cellular dead zones and aren’t able to stay in communication with us very well. We go to the daily online incident reports to determine how dangerous the fire has become, if there are any injuries listed, and when they think it will be contained. Do folks have to be evacuated? Have they lost their home? 

They work tirelessly to clear overgrown areas of vegetation that, if left, becomes the fuel for an even more vigorous fire. This brings up another issue. We have legitimate concerns about protecting forests and keeping our beautiful state green. We think the solution is not to allow anyone to clear away any of our forest area. But, we don’t foresee the consequences of extremely restrictive forest laws.

When a fire spreads across thousands of acres of our forests, there’s not much left of that beautiful forest. The potential cost to life and property is extraordinary. Don’t you think it would make more sense to have our state and federal laws encourage clearing this overgrowth in the forests before the fire is nipping at the backs of a fire crew?

Little decisions, big results. I think Newton realized it best in his Third Law of Motion. The direction of the force on one object is opposite to the direction of the force on a second object.

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner, and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now enjoying an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.