California

Inland Empire Man Arrested, Charged With Setting Fire to Joshua Tree Landmark

The Oasis of Mara was settled by Native Americans who planted the 29 palm trees that inspired the name of the nearby city Twentynine Palms

A Twentynine Palms man accused of setting an arson fire at Joshua Tree National Park in California that damaged a historical landmark was charged in federal court, according to the Department of Justice.

George William Graham, 26, appeared in court Wednesday after he was suspected of setting a blaze that damaged the Oasis of Mara. The Oasis of Mara was settled by Native Americans who planted 29 palm trees that inspired the name of the nearby city Twentynine Palms.

The fire erupted Monday night, stoked by strong winds, in the area behind the Oasis Visitor Center. 

National Park Service rangers took Graham into custody after he was seen observing the blaze. He allegedly admitted to starting the fire to law enforcement officials, authorities said. 

"According to court records, Graham was known both to the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and the National Park Service as a California arson parolee, with prior law-enforcement contacts with both California and federal authorities," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Graham faces a charge of unlawfully setting timber afire, a felony offense punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. His next court appearance is April 11, 2018.

Steve Raines, a Twentynine Palms resident and a professional photographer, was in the area, and captured images of the fire. 

Raines raced to the scene to take photos.

"It's a piece of history," he told the Associated Press. "It's always heartbreaking seeing something like that go up in flames."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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