Fire suspect a flight risk, prosecutor says
DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- Community anger at a woman accused of starting a massive Colorado wildfire could make her a greater flight risk, a prosecutor said Monday.
Terry Barton, arrested Sunday in connection with the fire that has charred more than 100,000 acres south of Denver, was read her rights and appointed an attorney during her first appearance Monday in federal court.
"We believe if she were not detained, she would return to a community in which there is considerable hostility towards her, which would add to the prospect of her being a flight risk," John Suthers, U.S. attorney for Colorado, said afterward.
Barton, 38, is charged with setting fire to timber in a national forest, damaging federal property and making false statements to federal fire investigators. If convicted on all counts, she could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined up to $500,000. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Barton, who was being held at a criminal justice facility in Colorado Springs, has worked for at least the past 18 summers as a forest technician with the U.S. Forest Service, said Rick Cables, a spokesman for the service's Rocky Mountain region. When the fire began, she was assigned to patrol for fires in the Hayman area of Pike National Forest, enforcing a fire ban that was set in May.
While on patrol, she burned a letter from her estranged husband, in violation of a ban on fires in the tinder-dry forest, officials said.
She apparently thought the fire was extinguished and left it, only to find later that it was spreading, investigators said.
The fire Barton allegedly started on June 8, dubbed the Hayman fire, has burned more than 100,000 acres and earlier threatened Denver's southwestern suburbs. More than 5,400 residents are under a mandatory evacuation order and 10,000 homes are threatened by the flames. (More on the fire)
The Hayman fire has destroyed 25 homes, one business and 13 other structures. Sunday, more than 2,100 firefighters were battling the fire, which was 47 percent contained.
It was Barton who first reported the fire, saying she had come across a campfire that had spread. But as the investigation unfolded, forensic evidence led investigators to question her story.
"Her statements were inconsistent with their conclusion that this was a deliberately set fire," said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Taylor. Presented with the evidence, Barton recanted her original statements, he said.
Taylor said the charges facing Barton "involve a willful state of mind. The arson investigators' conclusion was this was a deliberately set arson fire."
"To my knowledge," Cables said, Barton had never had prior problems.
Last fall, she was hired as a permanent part-timer, working for the Forest Service nine months per year, he said.
Recreation technicians clean campgrounds and provide information about trails and campgrounds to the public.
"I'm shocked and, with a lot of other people, in a state of disbelief," said Cables. "Fire service people take care of the land and protect the resources. I'm sure our folks are going to have tough time with this news."
"The fact that she was one of their own adds personal insult to this fire," said Sgt. Atilla Denes of the Douglas County Sheriff's department.
"The U.S. Forest Service people fighting this fire are extremely dedicated," he added. "It's just tragic that the acts of one can ruin it for everyone."
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