Posted: 6/16/2002 10:14:45 PM EDT
18 year veteran of the Forest Service admitted starting fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband. She has been arrested.
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Forest Service Employee Arrested For Starting Wildfire
June 16, 2002
By KOMO Staff & News Services
CASTLE ROCK, COLORADO - A U.S. Forest Service employee set the fire that scorched more than 100,000 acres in Colorado and forced thousands to evacuate by burning a letter from her estranged husband in the Pike National Forest, authorities said Sunday.
Forestry technician Terry Barton, 38, admitted starting the fire while patrolling the forest to enforce a fire ban, said assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Leone.
She was charged with setting fire to timber in the national forest, damaging federal property and making false statements to investigators, Leone said.
Barton said she started burning the letter from her estranged husband within a designated campfire ring, where fires normally would be allowed, then tried to put out the blaze.
"She attempted to suppress the fire but it grew," Leone said.
Barton initially told authorities she discovered an illegal campfire and had tried to put it out by throwing dirt on it, but it was too late. An investigation led the Forest Service to doubt her story, Leone said.
If convicted, Barton could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. She was arrested Sunday morning; it was not immediately clear whether she had an attorney.
She was scheduled to make an initial court appearance in federal court Monday.
"I want to begin by saying, this is one of the hardest announcements I've had to make in my career," said Rick Cables, regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region for the U.S. Forest Service.
"I'm shocked and with a lot of other people, in a state of disbelief," Cables said. "I'm saddened to say that one of our employees has admitted to starting the Hayman fire."
Firefighters gained ground Sunday on the blaze, which has burned within 40 miles of Denver city limits since it was started June 8, threatening southwestern suburbs and destroying at least 22 homes.
With the blaze about 35% contained, about 5,400 people remained out of their homes. It was one of seven fires burning in the state Sunday.
"Hopefully, this fire is going to now stay essentially where it is at," said Bobby Kitchens, a fire information officer. "We don't expect to see any more significant acreage gains."
Sheriff's deputies escorted some residents to retrieve belongings and assess damage, but didn't allow them to stay. Frustrated residents waited at the command post, trying to learn when they'll be able to return for good.
"It started to get to be a long period because one of the big things is I don't like eating out. I miss cooking at home," said Bob James, 46, who has been out of his home north of Lake George since Tuesday.
Another blaze flared in southwest Colorado and forced the evacuation of more than 330 homes. The latest fire had burned more than 20,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest by Sunday morning.
In addition to the evacuations, residents of 450 homes were told to be ready to leave. One cabin was destroyed, and fire managers were trying to determine whether others had burned.
More than 900 firefighters battled the blaze, about 10 miles north of Durango.
For More Information:
Lake George Fire
National Fire Center
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