by Jennifer Hamilton, The Associated Press
CASTLE ROCK, Colo. A U.S. Forest Service employee yesterday was
charged with starting a fire that has burned more than 100,000 acres and
forced thousands to evacuate across four Colorado counties.
Forestry technician Terry Barton, 38, admitted starting the fire while
patrolling the Pike National 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,
Barton said she started burning a letter from her estranged husband
within a designated campfire ring, where fires normally would be allowed,
and then tried to put out the blaze.
"She attempted to suppress the fire, but it grew," Leone said.
Barton, who lives in Teller County south of Denver, has worked for the
Forest Service for about 18 years, first as a part-time seasonal employee
and less than a year as a part-time employee year-round.
Joan Spigner, who runs a convenience store in Lake George, said Barton
has been a customer for years.
"She was really liked by everybody, a swell person and hard worker for
the Forest Service. I don't know what made her set that letter on fire.
should have burned it in her woodstove," Spigner said. "The Forest Service
was her life."
Barton had been widely praised last week, although not named, when
officials spoke of the Forest Service employee who had come upon an illegal
campfire and valiantly tried to put it out.
She apparently gave sheriff's deputies the license-plate number of a
seen leaving the campsite. Officials began to doubt her story after
investigators determined she could not have smelled smoke from the position
she reported, and after the vehicle turned out to belong to concerned people
who had seen the fire and driven over to investigate.
If convicted, Barton could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and
fines of up to $250,000. She was arrested yesterday; it was not immediately
clear whether she had an attorney.
She was scheduled to make an initial court appearance in federal court
"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.
Hayman fire update
As of last night:
Size: 102,895 acres.
Containment: 47 percent.
Evacuations: 5,300 people.
Damage: 25 homes destroyed.
On scene: 2,183 firefighters.
Cause: U.S. Forest Service employee charged with setting fire by illegally
burning letter from estranged husband.
Cost: $6.7 million so far.
The Associated Press
The arrest came as a shock in a state where Forest Service employees and
firefighters have been hailed as heroes for their efforts to save homes
property in what is becoming the worst fire season in state history.
"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
starting the Hayman fire."
Jody Penny, 45, out of her Florissant Heights home since Tuesday because
of the fire, said she was sickened to learn the person suspected of starting
it is from the area.
"We all wanted to believe it was some fool from somewhere else," Penny
said. "That it's one of ours makes it real sad."
The Hayman fire, the state's largest ever, has been the nation's
highest-priority wildfire for a week and was 47 percent contained
About 5,300 residents remain evacuated. Officials say it may take as
as three months to extinguish the blaze, which could cost $50 million to
The fire has burned within 40 miles of Denver city limits since it was
started June 8, threatening southwestern suburbs and destroying at least
homes. It was one of seven fires burning in the state.
"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
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
don't like eating out. I miss cooking at home," said Bob James, 46, who
been out of his home north of Lake George since Tuesday.
Another blaze flared in southwest Colorado and forced the evacuation
more than 330 homes. The most recent had burned more than 26,000 acres in
the San Juan National Forest by yesterday.
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
In California, meanwhile, 200 residents and campers returned home after
fleeing a fire that burned 3,500 acres and destroyed five homes Saturday
about 30 miles northeast of Bakersfield.
Higher humidity and lower temperatures also helped crews battling fires
in northern New Mexico.
The state's largest blaze, which has blackened 92,500 acres on the
Philmont Scout Ranch, was 75 percent contained.