- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

DENVER Terry Barton says she accidentally set the largest fire in Colorado history while burning a letter from her estranged husband, but federal agents say otherwise.

They have accused the federal Forest Service technician of deliberately setting the fire June 8 while patrolling the Pike National Forest, then concocting the story about the letter when quizzed by investigators.

According to the arrest affidavit, Mrs. Barton, 38, started the blaze within a designated campfire ring, but a senior special agent "concluded that the fire was deliberately set and had been staged to look like an escaped campfire."

Mrs. Barton has been charged with "willfully" setting the woods on fire, damaging federal property and making false statements to investigators. She was being held without bail yesterday pending a hearing tomorrow in U.S. District Court.

Mrs. Barton says she burned the letter in the campfire ring, then extinguished the fire but that the blaze somehow survived and spread to the forest. She says she tried to put the fire out, then called the Forest Service to report the blaze when it surged out of control, according to the affidavit.

The accusations came as the so-called Hayman fire roared up again yesterday in what firefighters described as the blaze's worst day yet. Winds up to 35 mph and high temperatures spread the wildfire to 113,000 acres.

More than 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, but authorities have said the fire could burn for 70 to 90 more days. About 6,000 people have been forced from their homes.

Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar said yesterday that he was considering filing state charges against Mrs. Barton. U.S. Attorney John Suthers said he plans to take her case to a federal grand jury within 30 days, which could result in more charges against her.

Mrs. Barton worked as a part-time seasonal laborer with the Forest Service for 19 years. She was recently hired as a permanent part-time employee.

Friends and neighbors expressed surprised at her arrest, describing her as a dedicated firefighter.

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