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Woman Held in Colorado in Connection to Fire - 2002-06-17

Authorities in Denver have charged a U.S. Forest Service worker with setting the largest fire in the state's history. The blaze south of Denver has burned more than 41,000 hectares and destroyed 25 houses. The U.S. government employee faces three criminal charges.

Terry Barton, 38, appeared in court Monday, charged with setting fire to timber in a national forest, damaging federal property and making false statements to investigators.

The Forest Service worker was enforcing a ban against campfires in the drought-stricken Pike National Forest. She said she was the first on the scene when the fire erupted and that she tried unsuccessfully to put it out. Investigators found inconsistencies in her story. Prosecutors now say the woman admits she burned a letter from her estranged husband at an abandoned campsite.

Forest Service official Rick Cables says the alleged act is unthinkable to the woman's colleagues. "Forest Service people take care of the land and protect the resources," he said, "and I'm sure our folks are going to have a tough time with this news."

Thousands of residents have been evacuated from towns south of Denver. One evacuee found the news just as surprising, saying, "It's shocking, just unbelievable." The fire is one of six now burning in Colorado.

Ms. Barton is being held without bail. If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.