Forest Service officer Terry Barton admitted to starting the fire June 8 during a routine patrol to enforce a fire ban in Colorado’s Pike National Forest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Leone said Sunday.
Barton, an employee of the forest service for 19 years, told federal investigators Saturday that she ignited a letter from her estranged husband in a designated campfire ring and could not stop the fire from spreading.
The 38-year-old forester was the first to report the fire and led investigators to the campfire ring where she said she had discovered an “escaped campfire” burning. She told authorities she was unable to put the fire out.
The forensic team, however, concluded that the fire was deliberately set and staged to appear like an accident. Investigators determined that the wind conditions made Barton?s story implausible, saying she could not have smelled smoke from where she said she was standing. Investigators questioned her further on Saturday and shortly after, Barton confessed to lying, court documents said.
Barton appeared in handcuffs in a federal court in Denver Monday and was ordered held without bail. Barton faces three felony charges that could cost her up to $250,000 in fines and 20 years in prison. Barton is charged with willfully setting timber ablaze in a national forest, willfully causing damage to federal property and lying to fire investigators.
The Hayman fire, which has consumed over 103,000 acres in central Colorado, has forced the evacuation of over 5,400 people and could cost up to $9 million dollars in damages. It’s one of seven wildfires currently burning in Colorado.
Cooler and calmer weather conditions today helped firefighters gain ground on nearly 50 percent of the wildfire, which has burned within 40 miles of Denver’s city limits. But windy, hot and dry conditions expected in the week ahead may help to fuel the blaze.