The man who started the fire at Joshua Tree National Park in California was sentenced to five years in jail.
U.S. District Judge Manuel Real sentenced 26-year-old George William Graham to the maximum term on the federal charge of unlawfully setting timber afire, the Department of Justice said.
Along with the prison sentence, Graham was ordered to pay $21,000 in restitution for setting the fire, which burned historic trees and brush in the Oasis of Mara area of the park.
A 26-year-old arson parolee was sentenced to five years behind bars and ordered to pay $21,000 in restitution for setting fire to historic trees and brush in the Oasis of Mara area of Joshua Tree National Park. https://t.co/uAXXiM8cCZ
— #NBC7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) September 11, 2018
Graham pleaded guilty in June to unlawfully setting the fire, admitting in the plea agreement that he used a handheld lighter to ignite a palm frond on March 26.
“The fire eventually grew to approximately 9,989 square feet, and destroyed numerous grasses, bushes, palm trees, vegetation, and other items of significance within the Oasis of Mara,” the plea agreement stated.
National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers who rushed to the scene found Graham standing and observing the fire. He was arrested and the fire was eventually put out.
Graham had two prior arson convictions before the Joshua Tree fire and was on parole for one of the convictions. He spent four years in total in state prison for the convictions.
— The Desert Sun (@MyDesert) September 11, 2018
Oasis of Mara
According to the National Park Service, the Oasis of Mara is a rare place because it’s in the desert but also contains water.
“The oasis was first settled by the Serrano who called it Mara, meaning ‘the place of little springs and much grass.’ 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,” according to the service.
“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 palms also provided the Serrano with food, clothing, cooking implements, and housing. In addition, the palms are habitat for a wide variety of desert creatures from colorful orioles to the palm-boring beetle.”
Early American surveyors found the oasis in the 1850s and found the Serrano living in the area. Within 20 years, prospectors were in the area looking for gold.
Between then and now, the area has also served as grounds for raising cattle, a stop for a stage line, a meeting place, and a town.
Today, more than 140,000 people visit the Oasis Visitor Center annually.