Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

You can watch them roll by, showroom-shiny, during local parades, but in our view the trucks from rural fire protection districts never look so good as when they're coated with dust and pinstriped with scratches from sagebrush.

When they're out doing what they were designed to do, in other words, which is protecting homes and valuable rangelands and crop fields from flames.

Fire will always pose a threat in our arid county.

But we've never been better equipped to deal with the danger.

The proliferation of volunteer-run rural fire districts over the past 15 or so years has added significant muscle to the county's firefighting capabilities.

With the creation of districts including Bowen Valley, Medical Springs and Sumpter rural, areas that once relied on state and federal agencies to put out fires now have their own powerful trucks parked nearby, with a cadre of volunteers ready to go at any time. Older districts, such as Keating, Haines and Baker Rural, continue to respond when called on.

We've also benefited, indirectly, from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That prompted the federal government to increase budgets for emergency services in rural areas. Through the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, the feds have paid the bulk of the cost for new fire engines and other equipment that give these rural departments formidable firefighting tools.

The rural departments have proved their worth dozens of times over the years - and this summer has included several examples.

Rural fire district crews played crucial roles in dousing fires that could have been much more destructive, including blazes near Medical Springs, Rye Valley and the Radio Tower fire just southeast of Baker City.

As the fire season continues and, potentially, worsens across the West, firefighting resources from the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Forest Service and the BLM probably will be harder to come by.

It's no small comfort to know that in pretty much every part of Baker County, a skilled and well-equipped fire department will roll at the first hint of smoke or flame.