The federal government needs a scapegoat in the largest wildfire in Colorado history, which has charred more than 100,000 acres near Denver, and it appears they have one.

Her name is Terry Barton, a 38-year-old Forest Service employee who is accused of setting the fire when she angrily lit a letter from her estranged husband, in violation of a ban on fires in the Pike National Forest. Barton was on fire patrol when she burned the letter, tossed it into a campfire ring, then left, assuming the fire was out. She later returned and found that the fire had spread, and despite her attempts to suppress the blaze it continued to spread.

Pike Regional Forester Rick Cables told reporters after the arrest that he was having a tough time finding the words to express how he felt about one of his employees starting the blaze which has destroyed 25 homes, one business, and 13 other structures. "Forest Service people take care of the land and protect the resources, and I'm sure our folks are going to have a tough time with this news," he said in an interview with CNN.

Apparently the regional forester did not offer any explanation as to how the fire consumed so many acres of timber so quickly. If national forest land in Colorado in any way resembles national forest land in Oregon, it is no wonder. Failure to thin these forests by logging or other methods has created a conflagration just waiting to happen.

If Terry Barton is guilty of burning down the Pike National Forest, then certainly the regional forester and his staff who failed to thin overcrowded trees, remove underbrush or "ladder fuels," and build fire breaks are accessories to the crime. So are members of environmental groups who have advocated a A properly managed forest would naturally preclude a fire of this magnitude.

Before Forest Service big shots like Rick Cables climb on their high horses and start assigning blame it might behoove them to take a look in the mirror. There they will see the people who are responsible for burning up the American West. R.S.

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