July 02, 2002 11:00 pm

In a little more than a week, one U.S. Forest Service employee and a contract firefighter have been arrested on charges that they started two of the worst forest fires in recent history.

ONE FIRE BURNED through parts of Colorado, the other within Arizona. Together, the fires have burned more than 500 homes, over half a million acres of forests, cost the federal government millions of dollars in firefighting costs and drained local economies.

Terry Barton and Leonard Gregg are names that will be burned into the minds of thousands of people in both states where people have lost their homes and perhaps their livelihoods. What a tragedy that those two individuals who were entrusted with saving our range and timberlands would be charged with such a horrendous crime. What we don't want people to do is to believe that every firefighter is like these two.

Every summer tens of thousands of new and returning firefighters spend much of the summer working 12- to 16-hour days laboring on the fire lines across the West. They put themselves at risk and a few pay the ultimate price to try and save our grasslands and forests from total destruction. They stand toe to toe with raging flames that spew forth smoke so thick and flames so hot that most of us wouldn't want to face what they face for a few minutes, let alone day after day.

WE HOPE THAT the print and broadcast media does not dwell on the crime of the two and allow a dark shadow to be cast on the heroic efforts of many.

If these two are convicted of the crimes they are alleged to have committed, then long prison terms would be justified for both. But like the police and firefighters who braved everything to try and save the lives of people in the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, we hope that people will continue to appreciate the efforts of those individuals who make up our corps of forest workers who battle to save our public and private lands.


It's a double-edge sword that calls for extra precaution on the part of everyone this July 4th holiday weekend.

FIRST THERE'S the need to be safe with fireworks. Children should be supervised when playing with sparklers and other devices. People should use fireworks the way they were intended and not do anything crazy like ignite several of them at one time. Area residents should leave their fireworks at home and not carry them into Community Stadium for Friday evening's Celebrate America show.

Second, motorists need to be aware that traffic will be heavy during the holiday weekend on many roads. Start early and take your time to arrive safely at your destination. And never mix drinking with driving.

Enjoy the weekend and be safe.