- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo., Jan. 7 (UPI) — A former U.S. Forest Service employee could face up to 12 years in prison for starting the largest wildfire in Colorado history last summer.

Terry Lynn Barton, 38, pleaded guilty to one state charge of fourth-degree arson in Teller County District Court Monday. Prosecutors said they would seek the maximum punishment of 12 years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled March 5.

Barton admitted she started the Hayman fire that burned 133 homes, one business and charred about 138,000 acres of forest. Four firefighters were killed driving to the fire scene and the firefighting cost was estimated at nearly $40 million.

"We are asking for the maximum sentence because we feel this fire endangered so many people," Teller County District Attorney Jeanne Smith told the Denver Post. "It was clearly the worst fire Colorado has ever seen."

Barton has also pleaded guilty to federal charges and faces up to six years in prison. A federal sentencing hearing is scheduled Feb. 21. The state and federal prison terms would run concurrently.

Barton wept in court as Judge Edward Colt asked her questions about the state plea-bargain agreement. The former Forest Service worker has said before that she was burning a letter from her estranged husband when the fire got out of control.

Teller County resident Ginger Krabbenhoft, whose 40 acres was scorched by the Hayman fire, told the Post she was unmoved by Barton's tears.

"(Barton) stripped us of our lives. I can't believe this is the American way. This is not a big enough punishment for her," Krabbenhoft said. "She should be in prison until the forest is completely restored."

Krabbenhoft purchased the acreage for $200,000 eight months before the fire, planning to build a home there. Now the property is worth $12,800, she said.

"At my age I'll never see the trees (regrown)," the 64-year-old Krabbenhoft told the Post. "I'll never see the property I purchased restored."

The Hayman fire was contained July 2 after burning 151 square miles in the Pike National Forest area southwest of Denver.

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