- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

DENVER (AP) A federal grand jury charged a veteran U.S. Forest Service worker yesterday with intentionally setting the largest wildfire in Colorado history, saying she maliciously sent flames licking through bone-dry timber southwest of Denver.

Terry Barton, 38, was charged with setting fire to timber in a national forest, damaging federal property, injuring a firefighter and using fire to commit a felony. If convicted of all counts, she could get 65 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

"These counts reflect the government's contention that the Hayman fire was deliberately set," U.S. Attorney John Suthers said. "Beyond that, we cannot and will not go into specifics regarding the defendant's intent or motive."

Mrs. Barton was being held without bail pending a bond hearing today in U.S. District Court. Her attorney, Rick Williamson, declined to comment.

The arrest of the 18-year Forest Service employee over the weekend stunned her colleagues and angered the public. Since the fire began June 8, it had grown to 135,000 acres, destroyed 25 homes and forced the evacuation of about 7,500 people. Officials warn it could smolder until the first snows arrive this fall.

Investigators contended the fire was set and staged to look like an escaped campfire. They said Mrs. Barton willfully set fire to timber, underbrush, grass and other flammable material.

Authorities said Mrs. Barton initially told investigators she was patrolling the Pike National Forest about 40 miles southwest of Denver when she smelled smoke and discovered the fire.

After she was confronted with contradictory evidence a week later, Mrs. Barton told investigators she was burning a letter from her estranged husband in a campfire ring but the fire accidentally got out of control. She said she tried unsuccessfully to douse it.

Mr. Suthers identified the injured firefighter as Forest Service worker Ryan Beyer, who broke his arm.

Elsewhere, as many as 4,000 people were ordered out of their homes after a wind-whipped wildfire exploded to nearly 12,000 acres in the mountains of eastern Arizona.

"It's moving like crazy," said Dorman McGann, a fire information officer for the national forest. Authorities were investigating whether the fire was set intentionally Tuesday.

Sixteen major blazes burned yesterday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Overall, wildfires have scorched 1.75 million acres nationwide so far this year, more than double the 10-year average on this date.

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