On Saturday, Sept. 12, Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker announced his resignation after being placed on paid administrative leave for reasons not publicly disclosed at the time. But on Sunday, the Oregonian reported that Walker was under investigation for misleading Oregon State Police leaders about whether he had authorization to enter a high-risk fire zone to search for human remains.
Walker told the Statesman Journal that one of his employees was worried about relatives who lived in Santiam Canyon, in the location of the Beachie Creek Fire. As a result, Walker entered the canyon with a member of the incident management team, searching for the employee’s relatives. While four of the individuals were safe, one remains unaccounted for.
According to the Oregonian, Walker said he obtained approval to enter the scene from an incident supervisor, but it was unclear whether he had authorization from Incident Commander Les Hallman, or whether he was honest with his supervisors when questioned about it.
The Oregonian also reported that state police leadership believed Walker “misused his authority to gain access to the fire scene on a personal mission for another employee.”
“We’re doing roadblocks and people are saying, ‘Can I go in? Can I go in?”’ Walker said to the Statesman Journal. “And that was kind of their take was…you’re using your position and your job to be able to go into that area.”
Walker said the employee he opted to help was doing everything he possibly could during the wildfire crisis, and that he hoped to alleviate the employee’s worries so he could focus on the task at hand: providing resources necessary to control the incident.
“I didn’t do anything criminal,” Walker said to the Oregonian. “I want people to know that. I truly feel like I did the right thing. If it was presented to me again, I would do the same thing.”
The Statesman Journal reported that prior to Walker’s resignation, Oregon State Police Spokesman Capt. Tim Fox said Walker was placed on leave for a personnel matter, not because of his handling of the fires.
Walker, who has been state fire marshal since 2014, will be replaced by his chief deputy, Mariana Ruiz-Temple.
By Jada Krening