portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

forest defense

NUTS! Colorado wildfires started by Pike NF staffer!

Forest Employee Charged in Wildfires

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (AP) -- A U.S. Forest Service
employee set the fire that scorched more than 100,000 acres in Colorado and
forced thousands to evacuate by burning a letter from her estranged
husband in the Pike National Forest, authorities said Sunday
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2002 19:12:38 -0500

The Associated Press
Sunday, June 16, 2002


Forest Employee Charged in Wildfires

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (AP) -- A U.S. Forest Service
employee set the fire that
scorched more than 100,000 acres in Colorado and
forced thousands to
evacuate by burning a letter from her estranged
husband in the Pike National
Forest, authorities said Sunday.

Forestry technician Terry Barton, 38, admitted
starting the fire while patrolling the forest to enforce a fire ban, said
assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Leone.

She was charged with setting fire to timber in
the national forest, damaging federal property and making false statements to
investigators, Leone said.

Barton said she started burning the letter from
her estranged husband within a designated campfire ring, where fires normally
would be allowed, then tried to put out the blaze.

``She attempted to suppress the fire but it
grew,'' Leone said.

Barton initially told authorities she discovered
an illegal campfire and had tried to put it out by throwing dirt on it, but
it was too late. An investigation led the Forest Service to doubt her
story, Leone said.

If convicted, Barton could be sentenced to up to
10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. She was arrested Sunday
morning; it was not immediately clear whether she had an attorney.

She was scheduled to make an initial court
appearance in federal court Monday.

``I want to begin by saying, this is one of the
hardest announcements I've had to make in my career,'' said Rick Cables,
regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region for the U.S. Forest
Service.

``I'm shocked and with a lot of other people, in
a state of disbelief,'' Cables said. ``I'm saddened to say that one of
our employees has admitted to starting the Hayman fire.''

Firefighters gained ground Sunday on the blaze,
which has burned within 40 miles of Denver city limits since it was started
June 8, threatening southwestern suburbs and destroying at least 22
homes.

With the blaze about 35 percent contained, about
5,400 people remained out of their homes. It was one of seven fires burning
in the state Sunday.

``Hopefully, this fire is going to now stay
essentially where it is at,'' said Bobby Kitchens, a fire information officer.
``We don't expect to see any more significant acreage gains.''

Sheriff's deputies escorted some residents to
retrieve belongings and assess damage, but didn't allow them to stay. Frustrated residents waited at the
command post, trying to learn when they'll be
able to return for good.

``It started to get to be a long period because
one of the big things is I don't like eating out. I miss cooking at home,''
said Bob James, 46, who has been out of his home north of Lake George since
Tuesday.

Another blaze flared in southwest Colorado and
forced the evacuation of more than 330 homes. The latest fire had burned more
than 20,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest by Sunday morning.

In addition to the evacuations, residents of 450
homes were told to be ready to leave. One cabin was destroyed, and fire
managers were trying to determine whether others had burned.

More than 900 firefighters battled the blaze,
about 10 miles north of Durango.

In California, 200 residents and campers returned
home after fleeing a fire that burned 3,500 acres and destroyed five homes
Saturday about 30 miles northeast of Bakersfield.

Higher humidity and slightly cooler temperatures
also helped crews battling fires in northern New Mexico. The state's largest
blaze, which has blackened 92,500 acres on the Philmont Scout Ranch, was 75
percent contained and full containment is expected Wednesday.

-----------
On the Net:
Lake George fire:
 http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/fire/hayman/index.htm
National Fire Center:
 http://www.nifc.gov/fireinfo/nfn.html