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Forest Service Worker Indicted in Wildfire

Probe: Grand jury says the 18-year employee deliberately sparked the Hayman fire that is ravaging Colorado.

June 20, 2002|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — A federal grand jury indicted a U.S. Forest Service employee Wednesday on suspicion of "maliciously" setting the blaze that sparked the largest wildfire in Colorado history.

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

Terry Lynn 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.

The fire began June 8 in the Pike National Forest. Authorities say Barton, who was patrolling the forest for violators of the state's open-fire ban, confessed that she set fire to a letter from her estranged husband. The small blaze in a fire ring quickly set nearby grass and brush alight, she allegedly told authorities, and she was unable to extinguish the flames. Barton was arrested Sunday.

Officials say they don't believe her story. Some investigators speculate that Barton--an 18-year Forest Service employee who has two teenage daughters--may have deliberately set the fire so she could single-handedly put it out and become a hero.

If convicted of all the charges, Barton could face 65 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

She is scheduled for a bond hearing today.

Meanwhile, President Bush on Wednesday declared the fire-ravaged parts of Colorado as federal disaster areas, paving the way for low-interest loans and temporary housing.

The Hayman fire grew again Wednesday, spreading to 136,000 acres after a day of hot, dry winds. The Missionary Ridge fire near Durango, in southwest Colorado, also expanded, to 53,800 acres. Residents in 18 subdivisions were evacuated.

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