Forest Service worker held on fire charges

June 17, 2002 at 2:27 PM
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DENVER, June 17 (UPI) -- A federal magistrate Monday ordered a part-time U.S. Forest Service employee held on federal charges that she started the largest wildfire in Colorado history.

Terry Barton, handcuffed and dressed in jail coveralls, listened to U.S. Magistrate Michael Watanbe read the federal charges. He advised her of her rights and appointed her an attorney because she said she could not afford one.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled Thursday for the 38-year-old recreational technician who lives in Teller County near the Hayman Fire.

U.S. Attorney John Suthers urged the judge not to release Barton from the jail because she was a flight risk.

"She would return to a community in which there is considerable hostility towards her and she could be considered a flight risk," he said.

Many of the 5,430 residents forced from their homes because of the fire 40 miles southwest of Denver were outraged to learn Sunday that Barton allegedly started the fire.

She was ordered held in custody at least until the preliminary hearing.

Barton was charged with setting fire to timber in a national forest, damaging federal property with a value of more than $1,000, and making false statements to federal investigators. She could receive up to 20 years in prison.

If convicted, Barton faces up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine for setting fire to timber in a national forest and for making false statement to federal investigators. She also faces up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of not more than $250,000 for damaging federal property with a value of over $1,000.

Federal officials announced Sunday that Barton had confessed to starting the fire June 8 when she burned a letter from her estranged husband at a campsite in the Pike National Forest where she was on patrol to stop illegal burning. She attempted to stop the fire but it quickly jumped out of the control in the tinder-dry forest, she said.

Barton was actually the first person to report the fire on June 8, but her story became suspect when forensic experts determined she could not have smelled smoke from the location she had indicated in her initial report.

Barton has worked for the Forest Service the past 18 summers.

The Hayman Fire has destroyed at least 25 homes, one commercial building, and 13 outbuildings in addition to burning through 103,000 acres of forest. Fighting the fire has cost $52 million and it may be weeks before it is fully contained, according to federal officials.

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