Our View: Hayman Fire provides cautionary tale for anyone who sparks a wildfire (editorial) | VailDaily.com

Our View: Hayman Fire provides cautionary tale for anyone who sparks a wildfire (editorial)

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Our View

Several people have asked over the past few weeks what's going to happen to Richard Miller and Allison Marcus, the people suspected of sparking the Lake Christine fire near Basalt.

The short answer, at this point, is that the cases against Miller and Marcus still have to proceed through the justice system.

If one or both is convicted, then they'll be responsible for the costs of fighting the fire. That bill stands at more than $13 million so far.

Of course, unless you're related to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg or someone like him, it's unlikely that anyone found responsible for starting a wildfire can actually pay that kind of bill.

So it's instructive to see what happened to Terry Lynn Barton, who 15 years ago was found responsible for starting the 2002 Hayman fire about 35 miles northwest of Colorado Springs — the largest wildfire in state history. That fire consumed 138,000 acres and destroyed 133 homes.

Barton spent several years in prison and was released in 2008. So far, she has paid about $15,000 of a restitution bill of $42 million, paying about $150 per month for a decade or so.

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According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, Barton recently had her probation revoked, and reinstated for another 15 years, on the condition that she works at least 40 hours per week and continues to pay restitution.

Barton today is 54 years old, meaning she's required to work full time until she's at least 69.

Again, the case against Miller and Marcus will involve a different cast of characters. But if convicted, then it's likely they'll be paying restitution for most of the rest of their working lives.

That won't be easy. Even $150 a month makes a noticeable dent in the budgets of most working people.

That's money that won't be spent on retirement savings or any of a host of other things.

No one can really pay the full costs of fighting a big fire.

But even a modest monthly restitution payment is a way to hold people accountable for their actions.

All of us end up paying for the cost of fighting wildfires. But those responsible need to pay more.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott Miller.