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Ex-Forester to Change Plea to Guilty

Terry Barton is charged with setting Colorado's largest wildfire.

November 28, 2002|From Associated Press

DENVER — Terry Barton, the former U.S. Forest Service employee accused of starting the largest wildfire in Colorado history, filed documents in federal court Wednesday saying she plans to change her plea to guilty.

Barton, 38, pleaded not guilty in June to four federal charges, including arson and injuring a firefighter. Combined, the counts could result in a prison sentence of as long as 60 years and $1 million in fines.

The 137,000-acre blaze started about 40 miles southwest of Denver and destroyed 133 homes.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for U.S. Atty. John Suthers, confirmed that the government had reached a plea agreement with Barton, but would not comment on the terms.

Jessica Leto of the public defender's office said Barton will appear in court Dec. 6, and U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch must approve the change before approving the agreement.

Leto said Barton's attorney, Warren Williamson, was unavailable for comment on the filing.

A federal grand jury in June charged the 18-year Forest Service veteran with setting fire to timber in a national forest, damaging federal property, injuring a firefighter and using fire to commit a felony.

Firefighter Ryan Beyer broke his arm while fighting the fire, which cost more than $29 million to control.

Barton initially told investigators she accidentally started the fire while burning a letter from her estranged husband. Authorities believe she intentionally set the blaze.

She was fired June 22 from the Forest Service, six days after being arrested. She had been a seasonal employee for 18 years and a probationary full-time employee for a year. Her responsibilities included patrolling a section of the Pike National Forest for illegal fires.

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