Labor Day weekend is one of the biggest travel weekends in the country, with many people taking advantage of the good weather for a vacation or sight seeing trip. And sometimes, the sights you see aren’t what you planned for. This year, on our way home from camping, the car just in front of us hit an elk. The impact killed the elk but the driver, fortunately, was unharmed. We waited on the side of the road with him for 40 minutes before the emergency responders arrived–and during that entire time, his car was burning. It was a living fireball of incinerating plastic and exploding parts.

As the cars stopped on both directions of the road, the thing that impressed me the most was how concerned everyone was about the driver. Time after time, the story of the accident was passed back. The first thing people always asked was, “Is everyone okay? Was anyone hurt? Is there anything I can do to help?” And, as the blaze grew bigger and caught the nearby sagebrush on fire, a group of strangers came together with shovels and handheld fire extinguishers, stopping the new forest fire before the fire trucks even arrived.

It was a remarkable thing to witness, this sense of commraderie and shared togetherness that a random group of travelers shared along a remote stretch of Nevada highway. I walked back to my car feeling a renewed sense of hope. Our species might make mistakes (plenty of them), and news reports often focus on our negative qualities. But if I were hurt on the side of a road, there’s no one I’d rather see besides my fellow human beings.

If you’d like to see some footage of the fire and learn a little more about why cars burn and how you can reduce your risk of hitting wildlife, check out the Science Mom video I made:


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