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Forestry Technician Arrested for Starting Hayman Fire

Aired June 16, 2002 - 17:07   ET


CHARLES MOLINEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's listen in, as this press conference gets under way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United States Attorney John Suthers was unable to be with us today. He has asked his first assistant, Bill Leone, to make a brief statement. So with that, it's Bill Leone, the first assistant United States attorney.

BILL LEONE, FIRST ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Bill Leone, I am the first assistant United States attorney for the District of Colorado. We have with us today Governor Bill Owens of the state of Colorado, Mr. Dale McCormick, who is the special agent in charge of the Rocky Mountain region for the United States Forest Service, Mr. Rick Cables, who is regional forester for the Rocky Mountain region for the United States Forest Service. We also have with us representatives of several of the local sheriff's offices and district attorney's offices that have constituencies and interests in the Hayman fire.

We're here today to announce the arrest of Terry Barton, age 38, of Teller County. Ms. Barton is a forestry technician for the United States Forest Service, and has been charged with starting the Hayman fire. She was arrested this morning without incident. She's being held in custody in the criminal justice facility in Colorado Springs.

The charges are setting fire to timber in a national forest, under 18 USC Section 1855, damaging federal property with the value in excess of $1,000, in violation of 18 USC section 1361, and making false statements to federal fire investigators during the course of the investigation.

Ms. Barton was patrolling an area within the Pike National Forest enforcing the fire ban that was put in place earlier in June. She has admitted to starting a fire within the campfire ring located within the national forest. She's also stated that she attempted to suppress the fire, but the fire grew rapidly out of control.

If convicted, Ms. Barton faces up to five years in federal prison and/or $250,000 fine for setting a fire to timber. She also faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of not more than $250,000 for damaging federal property with a value of over $1,000.

These charges, I have to remind you, are only allegations at this point. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The full extent and nature of the events that are at issue in this case will unfold during the investigation, which continues, and are to be resolved in the court of law.

To date, this fire has burned approximately well in excess of 100,000 acres, including known residences, commercial buildings, and outbuildings. A thorough assessment of the economic impact of the fire has not yet been completed.

But I would say also that certainly nothing in this prosecution should diminish the truly heroic efforts of the men and women from the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, other state, local, federal agencies that are battling around the clock to deal with the fire that we've come to know as the Hayman fire.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce Dale McCormick, who is the special agent in charge for the Rocky Mountain region for the United States Forest Service.

QUESTION: Spell her name, please?

LEONE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you spell Terry Barton?

LEONE: B-a-r-t-o-n.

QUESTION: First name is spelled?

LEONE: Terry -- t-e-r-r-y.


LEONE: Leone, l-e-o-n-e. Thank you.

DALE MCCORMICK, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: I wish to thank Mr. Leone for his office's support in helping not only the Forest Service but all the federal, state, local land management agencies in our fire suppression activities and supporting our resulting law enforcement efforts pertaining to the open fire restrictions.

I would also like to commend both my criminal investigators and our uniformed law enforcement personnel for their quick action and for the professional investigation that they performed that led to this arrest.

And in concert with my agents, I would also like to recognize the USDA's Office of Inspector General, who not only provided assistance during the investigation, but from a personnel's standpoint in the program oversight management, their responsibility -- excuse me, their responsibilities dictate that they be involved. And we welcome to have them on board.

I'd also like to say as a home owner in the -- one of the evacuation zones just west of the Sadilya (ph), I certainly appreciate the efforts of the 2,000 firefighters that have come to Douglas County from various local, state and the federal agencies. They're doing an excellent job. And along with that thanks, I would like to express my appreciation to the sheriffs of Park, Teller and Douglas Counties, not only for their assistance they provided in the law enforcement efforts in concerning fire prevention, but also the investigation and their assistance in the various evacuations and running the -- running and managing the checkpoints over the last several several days, 24 hours a day.

QUESTION: Can you speak to the motive? Why was this fire set? Do you have any idea?

MCCORMICK: I'm not going to be able to address that. So I have to say, no comment. With that, I'll step back.

RICK CABLES, REGIONAL FORESTER: Good afternoon. My name is Rick Cables. I'm the regional forester for the Rocky Mountain region for the United States Forest Service. I'm in charge of a five-state region which includes 14 million acres in national forest and grasslands in Colorado.

First of all, let me thank our Forest Service law enforcement people and the USDA Office of Inspector General for doing such a professional and thorough job in the investigation in the cause of the Hayman fire. They were very diligent and worked with a lot of other agencies, including the four sheriffs departments that Dale just mentioned, the U.S. attorney's office and many individuals to bring this part of the investigation to this point.

I want to begin by saying this is one the hardest announcements I've had to make in my career. I'm shocked and with a lot of other people in the state of disbelief. I'm saddened to say that one of our employees has admitted starting the Hayman fire. The Forest Service investigators and the U.S. attorney's office have details of the investigation, and I will not go into that.

Our first and greatest concern, however, remains with the people of this area who have lost homes and property to this fire. With those people who are still not able to return to their homes and businesses, this afternoon because of the fire, and the safety and welfare of thousands of firefighters who are here on the fire line today. I know this must be troubling news to them, as well as everyone involved in this tragedy.

The U.S. Forest Service is a proud agency of men and women who are dedicated to managing and protecting public lands. We feel horrible about this. And we know and trust that the American people will continue to support us as we move forward.

It's tough for me to find the words to express what I am feeling right now, as you might imagine. It's a tragic situation that we find ourselves in. But I will say, we will continue to fight this fire safely and aggressively, and try to get the people back into their homes as quickly as we can.

I'm glad that the investigation has gone so well and that the source of the fire has been found. Both the chief of the Forest Service and the secretary of agriculture are deeply concerned with this matter. I have statements from them to release to the media. I've been in the phone with them today. The chief was out here the past couple of days. He's deeply concerned.

With that, thank you, and I'll turn it over, I think, to the governor.

GOV. BILL OWENS, COLORADO: First of all, let me just thank the professionals at the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. attorney's office who have done such an outstanding job over the last week getting to the bottom who set the Hayman fire. I particularly want to express my appreciation to the U.S. Forest Service, because when the investigation turned inward, they remained dedicated to finding out who had started this fire.

Given the extent of the devastation, the first reaction of many, particularly when they hear this allegation, will be anger. I think it's important that we not let the actions, not let the apparent actions of one individual negatively reflect upon the fine work done by the U.S. Forest Service. The men and women of the Forest Service dedicate their careers and in many cases their lives to protect our landscape. Many of them are right now at work over on that Hayman fire, and I know that they share the distress that we all feel this afternoon with this announcement.

There's a second lesson that I think we can take away from this, and that is that whether the fire is set on purpose, as this fire is allegedly has been set, whether it's set by accident, whether it's set by mother nature, remains a very serious situation in the state of Colorado.

We can learn from this. We can learn that one match in this case apparently has already destroyed perhaps 100 square miles of forest. And I just want to, once again, tell Colorado, it's a time to be very, very careful. This should not in any way diminish from our -- from the discipline that we've shown in terms of being careful out of doors. This fire has been set on purpose; that's what the courts will determine. But in fact, yesterday was the first day of the official start of fire season in the state of Colorado. We have many more months to go. It's time to redouble our efforts to make sure that we don't put any more men and women at risk on the fire lines fighting fighters that need not have been set.

Thank you.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: You've been listening to Colorado Governor Owens talking about how distressing it is to hear of a suspect who they now have in custody allegedly responsible for the wildfires that have been burning out of control outside of Denver, causing up to 100,000 acres in damage, including homes and businesses. A forestry technician for the U.S. Forest Service has been arrested; 38-year-old Terry Barton charged with setting an illegal campfire, which may have sparked that wildfire that has destroyed 100,000 acres.

Of course, we will be bringing you up to date on that as we get more information.




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