FLORISSANT, Colo. (AP) -- A U.S. Forest Service ranger credited with reporting 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.
"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 burned the letter within a designated campfire ring, where fires normally would be allowed.
"She attempted to suppress the fire but it grew," U.S. Attorney Bill Leone said.
Driven by roaring wind, 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.
The air was calm Monday morning in Denver, where a light, smoky haze hung in the air.
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