For more than a decade John Hawkins has served Riverside County as our fire chief. He has done so with leadership, diplomacy, intelligence, respect for the office, and not least of all, humility. He set an example to other personnel.

Though his jurisdiction covers the fourth most populous county in the state and the 11th most populous in the nation, Hawkins became a well-known figure in the San Jacinto Mountains.

He wrote a column “Chief Concerns” for the Town Crier that aimed to educate our readers about wildfire prevention, preparation and evacuation.

The sudden change in leadership on Friday, Jan. 19, not only threw off county officials, but it shocked many in our community, including me.

We’ve never been given a reason for the change. Cal Fire simply moved him to another position — also unknown at this time — without any explanation to the community he served.

Unlike with the elected Sheriff Stan Sniff, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors had no issues with Hawkins, who is not elected but positioned by Cal Fire, which holds the contract to provide fire to the county.

Maybe because Hawkins is not elected the state didn’t see fit to dampen the blow with an alert a few weeks prior or an explanation. Maybe the state doesn’t realize how attached we can become to those who represent us, even if we don’t vote them in.

I always looked forward to conversations with Hawkins. I found him very insightful, truly dedicated to his position and sincerely protective of our mountain habitat.

If it’s true that no scandal resulted in Hawkins’ demise, Cal Fire owes Riverside County residents an explanation for why it removed such a beloved fire chief. Yet if a scandal does exist, then residents need to know that, too.

Drop the secrecy, Cal Fire. You owe that to us.

Becky Clark, Editor