Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker resigned Saturday, Sept. 13, as the state faces a historic and devastating fire season.
The Statesman Journal reported late Saturday evening that Walker offered to help a distraught employee, which ultimately led to his resignation. Walker told the Statesman Journal the employee was worried about a relative living in the Santiam Canyon, where four people have died in the Beachie Creek Fire since Monday.
Walker announced his resignation after being placed on paid administrative leave on Friday for reasons not publicly disclosed at the time. He assumed the position in 2014, and is being replaced by Mariana Ruiz-Temple, who was named state fire marshal Saturday by Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton.
“Mariana is assuming this position as Oregon is in an unprecedented crisis which demands an urgent response. This response and the circumstances necessitated a leadership change,” Hampton said in a statement. “I have the absolute confidence in Mariana to lead OSFM operations through this critical time. She is tested, trusted, and respected – having the rare combination of technical aptitude in field operations and administration.”
Ruiz-Temple has also been a key figure in media briefings in recent days with Gov. Kate Brown. In a statement, Brown said Ruiz-Temple “has led with grace, transparency, and courage. She embodies the experience Oregon needs to face this crisis, in this moment.”
The state fire marshal is responsible for working with wildfire teams to coordinate responses in order to protect Oregonians, property, and the environment from fire and other hazards.
Although state officials did not say why Walker was put on leave, the Oregonian reported that a source familiar with the situation said Hampton had lost confidence and trust in Walker’s ability to manage the state’s historic wildfires.
Fires have burned nearly a million acres across Oregon, with ten people reported dead and hundreds of homes destroyed.
By Jada Krening