- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. A federal forester ignited the massive wildfire that has charred more than 100,000 acres near Denver as she attempted to burn a letter from her estranged husband, federal authorities said.
Forestry technician Terry Barton, 38, acknowledged that she started the so-called Hayman fire while patrolling the Pike National Forest to enforce the campfire ban, said Bill Leone of the U.S. Attorney's Office at a news conference here at the fire's southern command.
Mrs. Barton, an 18-year Forest Service employee who worked part-time as a seasonal laborer, told investigators that she started the fire in a designated campfire pit to destroy a letter from her husband. When the flames jumped from the pit to the woods, she threw dirt on it in an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the blaze, according to the police affidavit.
When she realized the fire was out of control, she contacted the Forest Service to report that she had discovered a wildfire, but she denied setting it. She admitted starting the wildfire after presented with evidence inconsistent with her earlier statements, said William Taylor of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Mrs. Barton, who lives in Teller County, Colo., was charged with setting fire to trees in a national forest, making false statements to investigators and damaging federal property in excess of $100,000. She was scheduled to appear in federal court in Denver today.
The news stunned the hundreds of forestry officials and firefighters who have risked their lives to fight the fast-moving inferno since June 8. The wildfire has caused $6.7 million in damage, burned 25 homes and forced the evacuation of 5,340 persons.
"I want to begin by saying that this is one of the hardest announcements I've had to make in my career," said Rick Cables, regional forester for the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain region.
"I'm shocked and, with a lot of other people, in a state of disbelief. I'm saddened to say that one of our employees has admitted to starting the Hayman fire," he said.
If convicted, Mrs. Barton could receive up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said his first reaction was "disappointment" at the irony of a Forest Service employee being charged with starting the fire. But he also praised Forest Service investigators for cracking the case and said he hoped that "the actions by one individual would not reflect on the entire Forest Service."
The largest fire in Colorado history, the Hayman blaze raged out of control for days before cooler weather and rain helped firefighters slow its advance Thursday. The fire was 47 percent contained yesterday at about 103,000 acres.
Firefighters were optimistic yesterday that the fire would stop growing. "Hopefully, this fire is going to now stay essentially where it's at," said fire information officer Bobby Kitchens.
Even so, the Hayman fire is expected to burn for 70 to 90 days longer, which could bring the cost to more than $50 million. The fire also cost the state untold millions in the loss of tourism.
The wildfire was one of seven burning in Colorado yesterday and the second to result in criminal charges. Three teen-agers who skipped school to smoke behind Platte Canyon High School are charged with igniting the Snaking Fire in April, which burned 2,590 acres and cost $2.6 million.
Another fire, the Missionary Ridge fire near Durango, continued to burn out of control yesterday. The blaze grew yesterday to 26,000 acres and was zero percent contained.

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