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Barton gets 12 years for starting Hayman

Judge in state case reveals he had to flee his home during blaze last summer

By Joe Garner, Rocky Mountain News
March 6, 2003

CRIPPLE CREEK - The former U.S. Forest Service worker who started Colorado's largest wildfire received a 12-year state prison sentence Wednesday from a judge who revealed he fled his own home during the blaze.

Weeping as she spoke in her own behalf, Terry Lynn Barton, a 39-year-old mother of two teenage daughters, told Teller County District Court Judge Edward Colt, "I deserve to be punished. I admit that."

She admitted starting the Hayman Fire June 8 by burning a two-page letter from her husband on a day with the highest fire-danger warnings. The fire burned almost three weeks, consuming 137,000 acres and destroying 133 homes and structures.

"I am still trying to forgive myself," Barton sobbed as she leaned against her public defender Sharlene Reynolds.

The judge said Reynolds "has done a good job. There is a lot of good in Terry Barton."

However, Colt said he had to take into account the devastation, the historic buildings destroyed, the heirlooms consumed, the scores of lives disrupted and the families forced to start over at retirement age. The judge also said he could not ignore the deaths of five firefighters near Rifle who were driving to join crews fighting the Hayman Fire.

"We still don't know the extent of damage the Hayman Fire caused," Colt said. "We still don't know how many victims there are."

When Colt mentioned during sentencing that he and his two dogs had evacuated their home for one night during the blaze, Reynolds stood up and declared, "Frankly, I'm shocked."

She said Colt had failed to disclose the fire's impact on him, which could be grounds for an appeal.

Colt said he had suffered no financial loss in the fire, adding "it would have been impossible to be here day after day without seeing the smoke."

Colt ordered Barton's 12-year sentence on arson charges to begin March 24, the same day she starts concurrently serving a six-year federal sentence.

Barton may serve only 4.8 years of the 12-year sentence if she earns credits for continuing her education and maintains a good record while in federal custody, prosecutors said. A good record could also shorten the federal sentence, they said.

Colt also ordered a 90-day deadline for restitution claims to be filed, which will push the total above the current $29.9 million. Colt said Colorado law holds Barton responsible for the damage she caused, even though she earned about $27,000 annually as a Forest Service employee.

"I think the judge was very fair," said John Benge, whose home burned in the fire. "This court was more sympathetic to victims than the federal court was."

Last month, U.S. Judge Richard Matsch refused to order Barton to pay $15 million in restitution for the fire, which burned sections of Teller, Park, Douglas and Jefferson counties. Matsch said he would not sentence her to "a lifetime of poverty."

But Benge said he never expects any restitution money from Barton "because she doesn't have that kind of money to pay."

Mother Cassiana, mother superior of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Monastery at Lake George, said Barton was a basically good person.

"I've been a nun for 30 years, and, every day, I still make mistakes," she said.

But the praise didn't go down well with fire victims, although some told the judge they saw no point in sending Barton to prison.

"We're all wonderful, hard-working people who have to deal with a lot of stress in our lives," said Debra Winter, who said her children still are fearful of being at their home, which escaped the devastation.

"The difference is, we don't go out and break the law," Butler said.

Barton's daughters, Brandy and Tasha, sobbed as they described her as their hero and best friend, who will miss proms and graduations while she is in prison.

"If you knew my mother, you would never hate her," 15-year-old Brandy Barton said. "You would love her."

Tasha Barton, 18, said her mother "would never do anything to hurt the forest."

Copyright 2003, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.

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