Oregon’s fire marshal has suddenly resigned amid an unprecedented and dangerous number of wildfires scorching through the state.
Marshal Jim Walker on Saturday submitted his resignation to State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton just hours after he was placed on administrative leave.
Oregon authorities had not publicly disclosed why Walker, who has held the position since 2014, was placed on administrative leave.
But a source told Oregon Live that Superintendent Hampton had lost confidence in Walker’s ability to manage the wildfires that have inundated the West Coast.
This could be related to a report by Statesman Journal that Walker was reprimanded after he offered to search for an employee’s relative affected by the Beachie Creek Fire.
Oregon officials announced on Saturday that Oregon Fire Marshal Jim Walker (left) resigned from his position and the role would be taken over by Chief Deputy Mariana Ruiz-Temple
Walker told the publication that it’s difficult for deputies to search for people who have been burnt or killed in the fires – especially when it involves family members or children.
‘So what I said is, “Let me go. Let me do this for you,”” he said. ‘And so that’s what I did.’
On Thursday, Walker traveled to Santiam Canyon to search for the employee’s relative and an additional four people in the household.
An initial search with a member of the incident management team didn’t find anyone, but they were able to make contact with the unaccounted people after getting phone numbers from a woman with knowledge of the situation.
Each person was alright, except for one person who remained unaccounted for.
‘Superintendent Hampton’s assessment was I overstepped my role and took this action without authority to do so,’ said Walker.
Walker said he believed his search was cleared by the correct person, who was the operations chief of the incident management team for the Beachie Creek Fire.
Flames are seen at the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest on September 10, 2020 north of Monrovia, California
Walker: ‘Superintendent Hampton’s assessment was I overstepped my role and took this action without authority to do so.’ Pictured: State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton
Walker’s resignation letter read: ‘Following your conversation with me on Friday, September 11, I understand you have lost faith in my ability to meet leadership expectations in service to OSP.
‘My hope was to continue supporting the Oregon Fire Service, even as we face unprecedented challenges. However, as this appears not possible, I am offering my resignation effective today, September 12, 2020.’
A source told Oregon Live that Walker had effectively passed the role’s day-to-day duties to his chief deputy, Mariana Ruiz-Temple.
Ruiz-Temples was officially appointed as Oregon’s new fire marshal, according to a statement from Oregon State Police.
‘Mariana has led with grace, transparency and courage,’ said Gov. Kate Brown, per the statement. ‘She embodies the experience Oregon needs to face this crisis, in this moment.’
Superintendent Hampton said in a statement that the crisis faced by Oregonians at the moment ‘necessitated a leadership change.’
‘Mariana is assuming this position as Oregon is in an unprecedented crisis which demands an urgent response,’ said Hampton.
‘This response and the circumstances necessitated a leadership change. I have the absolute confidence in Mariana to lead OSFM operations through this critical time.
‘She it tested, trusted and respected – having the rare combination of technical aptitude in field operations and administration.’
The town of Talent in Southern Oregon suffered severe damage as a result of the Almeda fire which burned through the area earlier this week
In this aerial view from a drone, homes destroyed by wildfires are seen on September 12 in Talen, Oregon
Boats are partially obscured by smoke from a wildfire at a marina on Detroit Lake burned by the Beachie Creek Fire
Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey told Oregon Live that the state has been absent in coordinating a response, but couldn’t confirm if the lapse was linked to the leadership shakeup.
Typically when wildfires happen Oregon state officials take daily calls with county commissioners for updates, said Lindsey, but that hasn’t happened this time around.
‘The one consistent denominator missing was the state,’ said Lindsey.
The detrimental wildfires that have taken over the Oregon’s southern border have burnt one million acres across that state – about twice the annual average for the past decade.
According to Oregon’s fire and hot spot dashboard, there are currently 14 active fires in the state.
Mormon Lake Hotshots firefighter Sara Sweeney uses a drip torch to set a backfire to protect mountain communities from the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest on Thursday
Six days of ongoing fires have forced thousands of Oregon residents to flee their homes as countless residences and businesses have already been destroyed.
In some parts of Oregon, around one-third of residents remained without power as a result of the wildfires.
Poor air quality has been found in Oregon, and California that materialized in the form of frightening orange skies this week.
At least nine people have died in the wildfires, with three of the deaths attributed to the Almeda Fire, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
Four people were confirmed dead on Saturday from the Beachie Creek Fire and one person died in the Holiday Farm Fire.
A 13-year-old boy named Wyatt Toft hid with his pet dog inside a car to escape the inferno, but was among those who died last week.
Wyatt Tofte (pictured) was killed in an Oregon wildfire this week after huddling in a car with his dog to try to escape the flames
Wyatt (pictured in an undated image) died Tuesday in the Santiam Fire in Marion County, along with his 71-year-old grandmother, Peggy Mosso (center). Wyatt’s mom Angela Tofte (left) is in critical condition with full body burns
Wyatt’s mother is in critical condition with full body burns and his grandmother was killed in the flames.
Hundreds of firefighters battled two large wildfires Friday that threatened to merge near the most populated part of the state, including the suburbs of Portland, causing the city to declare a state of emergency Thursday.
In California at least 20 have died and there has been at least one death reported in Washington state.
Four people have been arrested for arson for deliberately starting blazes along the West Coast while the states are already grappling with dozens of deadly blazes.