Front: Forestry technician charged in Colorado wildfire Copyright Â© 2002 AP Online Woman implicated in wildfire called dedicated, well-liked Woman charged in Colorado wildfire appears in court National Fire Center Fire service worker allegedly started fire By JENNIFER HAMILTON, Associated Press FLORISSANT, Colo. (June 17, 2002 11:03 a.m. EDT) - A U.S. Forest Service ranger credited with alerting authorities about a fire that has blackened nearly 103,000 acres and destroyed 22 homes was charged with starting the blaze by burning a letter from her estranged husband. Federal prosecutors said forestry technician Terry Barton, 38, illegally started the fire June 8. If convicted, she could be sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $250,000 in fines. At the time the fire broke out, Barton was assigned to patrol the Pike National Forest in central Colorado to enforce a fire ban imposed because of a drought. The Forest Service and Barton's friends and family expressed shock that someone they knew and trusted could have set the blaze. "I'm shocked and with a lot of other people, in a state of disbelief," said Rick Cables, regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region for the U.S. Forest Service. Barton said she started burning the letter within a designated campfire ring, where fires normally would be allowed, then tried to put out the blaze. "She attempted to suppress the fire but it grew," U.S. Attorney Bill Leone said. Driven by roaring winds, the fire spread to within 10 miles of Denver's far southwestern suburbs last week. Calmer, cooler weather and higher humidity helped crews dig lines around 47 percent of the blaze Sunday, but about 5,400 people remained out of their homes. Barton lives in Florissant, about 60 miles southwest of Denver. The city was among the hardest hit by the blaze, and many homes were evacuated. "We all wanted to believe it was some fool from somewhere else. You can understand that, we don't want to believe it. That it's one of ours makes it real sad," said Jody Penny, 45, who was evacuated from Florissant Heights on Tuesday and has been staying at an inn. Barton initially told authorities she smelled smoke, discovered an illegal campfire and tried to put it out by throwing dirt on it. Investigators later determined she could not have smelled smoke from the position she reported and investigators confronted her with unspecified forensic evidence. She was charged with setting fire to timber in the national forest, damaging federal property and making false statements to investigators, said Leone. A hearing was scheduled for Monday in federal court in Denver. Barton has worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 18 years, first as a seasonal employee and then year-round. She told reporters last week that she wouldn't rest until someone was arrested for starting the illegal camp fire. Although some who know Barton said they were stunned and disappointed, others voiced support. "She was really liked by everybody, a swell person and hard worker for the Forest Service," said Joan Spigner, who runs a convenience store in Lake George, where Barton shops. Neighbor Mike Vial told The Gazette of Colorado Springs that Barton is a dedicated firefighter and a good person. "I think this was a bad situation, and she made a stupid mistake. I don't blame her for anything. It was a stress thing," Vial said. About 2,200 people were fighting the fire, which has cost $6.7 million so far to fight. Another blaze flared in southwest Colorado and had forced the evacuation of about 860 homes by Sunday night. The latest fire had burned more than 26,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest. In addition to the evacuations, residents of 450 homes were told to be ready to leave. One cabin was destroyed, and fire managers were trying to determine whether others had burned. More than 900 firefighters battled the blaze, about 10 miles north of Durango. In California, firefighters battled a fast-moving fire that burned 3,500 acres of rugged forest land and caused the temporary closure of Interstate 15 in San Bernardino. Buffeted by hot, dry winds, the fire jumped the freeway at least twice, authorities said. Higher humidity and slightly cooler temperatures helped crews battling fires in northern New Mexico. The state's largest blaze, which has charred 92,500 acres on the Philmont Scout Ranch, was 75 percent contained and full containment was expected Wednesday.