DENVER, Colo. – The U.S. Forest Service has fired Terry Barton, the employee charged with starting the largest wildfire since Colorado became a state.
Forest Service spokesman Lynn Young said Saturday that Barton was fired because of her "conduct." He wouldn't elaborate because the investigation is continuing into the Hayman fire, which has burned 137,000 acres, destroyed at least 133 homes and cost more than $29 million to fight.
Barton, 38, has pleaded innocent to four federal charges, including arson, for allegedly starting the blaze June 8 southwest of Denver. She was indicted by a federal grand jury.
She had been a seasonal employee with the Forest Service for 18 years, and was serving a year probationary period as a full-time staffer, Young said. Probationary employees are not allowed to appeal administrative decisions.
Barton was given a letter that her job was terminated June 22.
"It's heartbreaking for her. She loves her job and she loves what she does," said Connie Work, a spokeswoman for Barton's family. "There's not a chance in the world she did it deliberately and this is just one more blow."
Work said she hoped that Forest Service officials were not assuming Barton was guilty, and that the decision was protocol. She said she hoped Barton would be reinstated if found innocent.
Barton was released Thursday from the Jefferson County Jail on $600,000 bond. As a condition of her release, she is required to stay at a halfway house, get mental health counseling and is not allowed to leave the state or enter a forest.
She allegedly told authorities she started the fire accidentally while burning a letter from her estranged husband. Friends said she has been struggling with a failing marriage and is trying to obtain a divorce.
Young said the news of Barton's charges came as a shock to forest service employees.
"It's the same kind of feeling as if you found out it was a member of your family," he said. "But we employees, like the rest of the country, are going to have to let the legal system take its course."
Young, a 35-year Forest Service veteran, said employees should not dwell on the situation.
"There are still a lot of fires to fight," he said.