by Michael Janofsky, New York Times
DENVER - Federal investigators have concluded that the Forest Service
employee charged with starting a fire that has burned more than 100,000
acres in central Colorado set the blaze deliberately and lied when she said
she had done so accidentally by burning a letter inside a campfire ring,
senior Forest Service official said today.
The official said investigators had found burned underbrush positioned
such a way outside the ring, set up to prevent campfires from spreading
beyond a contained area, to suggest that the employee, Terry Lynn Barton,
intended to start a fire and that burning the letter might have had nothing
to do with the blaze, the largest in Colorado history. The investigators,
said, are not even certain that she burned anything inside the ring.
"They knew immediately that the fire was set," said the official, who
spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They found enough material to know
that it was more than two sheets of paper burned that caused the fire."
Ms. Barton, a seasonal employee of the Forest Service for 18 years who
lives in Florissant, Colo., and is the mother of two teenage girls, is
scheduled to appear in Federal District Court on Thursday, when the
government will present its case, much of it based on an investigation that
points to the underbrush as the point of origin. Prosecutors are expected
argue that there is enough evidence that a crime has been committed and
Ms. Barton is a flight risk who should not be released on bail before a
If the judge agrees, prosecutors will take Ms. Barton before a federal
grand jury to seek an indictment.
Ms. Barton's federal public defender, Warren Williamson, declined to
discuss any aspect of the case other than to acknowledge the time and place
of the hearing and to predict that they could take several days. His client
faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000 on federal
charges that she set fire to federal lands, caused damage in excess of
$1,000 and knowingly misled investigators.
Today, Colorado's attorney general, Ken Salazar, met with the United
States attorney for Colorado, John W. Suthers, and prosecutors from four
counties affected by the fire to discuss whether state charges should also
be filed. A decision is not expected for a few days, Mr. Salazar said.
Investigators have not determined why Ms. Barton would have ignited a
fire at a time when a ban against open fires was in effect because of
persistent warm and dry weather.
The cause of any large wildfire is routinely investigated by the Forest
Service, and Ms. Barton drew the immediate attention of the investigators
when she was the first person to summon help after she said she spotted
fire in the Pike National Forest in a routine patrol on June 8.
After interviews on June 10 and 13, according to the criminal complaint,
investigators said they found that her explanation of where she was when
said she smelled smoke was inconsistent with wind conditions and other
In a third interview, on June 15, investigators confronted Ms. Barton
with the anomalies. She then said she had not discovered a fire at all but
had become angry over a letter from her estranged husband, John Barton,
had set it afire in a campfire ring.
Ms. Barton told the investigators that she waited until the flames had
extinguished, but after circling back to the campsite discovered a fire
growing out of control in grass and pine trees. She said she called for
and tried to extinguish the fire. She was arrested on Sunday.
The Forest Service official said even that version of events made little
sense to investigators when compared with evidence they found at the
campsite, a conclusion reflected in the complaint, which said "the fire
deliberately set and had been staged to look like an escaped campfire."
The complaint provided no details, but the official said investigators
were persuaded by the amount of underbrush placed in a way that appeared
that it had been used to set a fire.
Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the United States attorney for Colorado,
said the charges against Ms. Barton, for now, only referred to starting
fire," wording that avoids the determination whether the fire was a campfire
or forest fire.
Mr. Williamson, Ms. Barton's lawyer, would not say where his client was
being held, and there was no response to telephone messages left at the
A Justice Department official said members of Ms. Barton's family had
been interviewed. Neither that official nor the Forest Service one knew
whether the investigators had met with her husband to ask if he had actually
sent his wife a letter that could have upset her. The couple have been
separated about a year.
The blaze, known as the Hayman wildfire, meanwhile, grew again today.
Fueled by swirling winds and temperatures in the mid-90's, it reached nearly
120,000 acres as it bore down on Woodland Park, northwest of Colorado
Springs. It remains less than half contained.
The fire has forced at least 5,500 people from their homes. At least
houses have burned, officials said.