Forest Service worker pleads innocent of fire

Friday, June 21, 2002

DENVER -- U.S. Forest Service employee Terry Barton pleaded innocent Thursday to charges she set the biggest wildfire in Colorado history.

A judge set bail at $600,000, but ordered Barton not to leave the state or enter a forest. She did not immediately post bond.

Barton, 38, was dry-eyed as she entered the plea. But after Thursday's hearing got under way, she wiped away tears and reached for a tissue as witnesses described discovering the fire.

A federal grand jury Wednesday 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.

The indictment came after prosecutors expressed doubt about Barton's story that she accidentally started the fire while burning a letter from her estranged husband. Investigators contend the fire was staged to look like an escaped campfire.

During the hearing, Forest Service special agent Brenda Schultz said it appeared Barton had moved rocks from a campfire to allow the fire to escape and ignite surrounding brush.

Schultz said Barton's husband told investigators he never wrote her a letter. Prosecutors also said there was no evidence of burned paper at the scene.

Barton's boss, Forest Service ranger Sara Mayben, described what happened when Barton allegedly told her and several other co-workers that she had started the fire:

"I think her words were, 'You're going to be mad at me.' I don't think I was mad at her, I think I was just more shocked and saddened," Mayben said.

If convicted of all counts, Barton could get up to 65 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The arrest of the forestry technician over the weekend stunned colleagues and angered residents who have been evacuated. Since the fire began June 8, it has grown to 136,000 acres.

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