A Twentynine Palms man was sentenced to five years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $21,000 in restitution on Monday for setting fire to historic trees and brush in the Oasis of Mara area of Joshua Tree National Park in March.
George William Graham, 26, pleaded guilty in June to a felony charge of unlawfully setting a fire.
National Park Service rangers took Graham into custody on March 26 after they saw him watching the blaze consume trees on the property. Graham was on parole from state prison at the time for a prior arson conviction, according to court records.
Authorities wrote in court documents that Graham initially told them he was “just watching the fire” and had called 911 to report the blaze. He later admitted to police that he started the fire by igniting a palm frond with a Bic lighter. The lighter was found at the scene.
The blaze eventually grew to nearly 10,000 square feet and damaged grasses, bushes, palm trees, vegetation and other items of significance within the Oasis of Mara. Seven California fan palms were destroyed, according to court records.
The oasis was first settled by the Serrano people, who called it Mara, meaning “the place of little springs and much grass,” according to the park service.
“Legend holds they came to the oasis because a medicine man told them it was a good place to live and that they would have many boy babies. The medicine man instructed them to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year, the Serrano planted 29 palm trees at the oasis,” the park service wrote on its website.