Oregon’s fire marshal resigned as wildfires rage near Portland and the state prepares for a ‘mass fatality incident’


Air quality in Portland <p class="copyright">John Locher/AP Photo</p>
Air quality in Portland

  • Oregon Fire Marshal Jim Walker resigned on Saturday after Oregon State Police placed him on paid administrative leave earlier that day.

  • While the state police did not give a reason for his leave, sources close to the situation say the police chief lost confidence in Walker’s ability to handle the wildfire crisis in Oregon.

  • Walker’s replacement will be former Chief Deputy Mariana Ruiz-Temple.

  • Oregon’s unprecedented wildfire season has already killed ten people and left dozens missing. Over 10% of the state is under an evacuation order or alert, and the state is preparing for a “mass fatality incident”

  • This year’s historic wildfire season can be tied to climate change, and may have lasting economic impacts across the West Coast.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Oregon Fire Marshal Jim Walker resigned on Saturday, Oregon Live first reported.

The Oregon State Police announced on Saturday that Walker had been put on paid administrative leave. His resignation followed just hours later.

The state police did not say give a reason for Walker’s leave, but a source familiar with the situation told Oregon Live that Superintendent Travis Hampton “lost confidence” in Walker’s ability to lead the department against the wildfires. Chief Deputy Mariana Ruiz-Temple will take Walker’s place at the head of the Office of State Fire Marshal.

Former Chief Deputy Mariana Ruiz-Temple, who has just been appointed Oregon's new Fire Marshal. <p class="copyright">Courtesy of the Oregon State Police</p>
Former Chief Deputy Mariana Ruiz-Temple, who has just been appointed Oregon’s new Fire Marshal.

“Mariana is assuming this position as Oregon is in an unprecedented crisis which demands an urgent response,” Hampton said in a press release. “This response and the circumstances necessitated a leadership change. I have the absolute confidence in Mariana to lead OSFM operations through this critical time.”

The wildfire situation in Oregon is becoming increasingly dire. Ten people have died, 40,000 have evacuated, and at least 500,000, or more than 10% of Oregon’s total population, are under an evacuation alert.

Dozens of people remain missing, and the state is preparing for a “mass fatality incident,” Oregon’s emergency management director, Andrew Phelps, told reporters on Friday.

The 2020 wildfire season has already scorched 3 million acres across California, Oregon, and Washington, and is already far more severe than the 2019 wildfire season. Scientists say the increased severity of the wildfire season is strongly tied to climate change, according to the New York Times.

Economists say 2020’s historic wildfire season may result in lasting economic consequences for the entire West Coast. Long-term air pollution at current levels would be a drastic hit to worker productivity, Matthew Khan, a Bloomberg distinguished professor of economics and business at Johns Hopkins University and a provost professor of Economics at the University of Southern California, told Business Insider on Saturday.

Air quality in Portland is currently the worst in the world. Other West Coast cities like Seattle, Vancouver, and San Francisco rank closely behind.

Khan also said that the wildfires may result in brain drain for Silicon Valley and other major economic hubs on the West Coast, as workers may perceive these areas to have a decreased quality of life.

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