CRIPPLE CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) -- A former U.S. Forest Service worker wept quietly Monday as she pleaded guilty to starting the largest wildfire in Colorado history.

Terry Lynn Barton, who worked for the agency 18 years, said she started the blaze that scorched more than 137,000 acres and destroyed 133 houses last year.

"I tried to put it out ... to no avail," she stated in brief written remarks in state court.

Barton, who turns 39 next week, could receive up to 12 years in state prison on the one count of arson to which she pleaded guilty.

Last month, Barton pleaded guilty to federal charges of starting the Hayman Fire on June 8 after becoming distraught over a letter from her estranged husband. She faces six years in prison on the federal charges. Sentencing on that plea is set for February 21.

Barton's sentencing for the state plea was set for March 5.

The federal charges related to damage on federal property, and the state charges focused on private property in Jefferson, El Paso, Teller and Douglas counties, Teller County District Attorney Jeanne Smith said last week.

The fire, which burned for 17 days in the Pike National Forest, also damaged the state's tourism business and angered many residents.

Barton originally told investigators she came across the fire and tried to put it out. But after further questioning, she told investigators the fire started when she burned the letter from her estranged husband.

Prosecutors had charged that Barton deliberately lit the fire. She would have faced up to 65 years in prison if convicted of all the charges in the original indictment.


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