CALIFORNIA—A man has been charged with arson for a fire that burned though historic flora in Joshua Tree National Park. The culprit was Twentynine Palms resident George William Graham, 26. The Los Angeles Times reported that the suspect was previously convicted for arson in 2015 and burglary in 2013. The Oasis of Mara was originally settled by the Native American Serrano people. They planted 29 palm trees at the site, inspiring the name of the park’s neighboring city, Twentynine Palms.
The park area targeted was The Oasis of Mara, located near the Joshua Tree’s visitor center and headquarters. The extent of the damage is being assessed by park services. According to the San Bernardino County Fire Department, the fire spread rapidly with the help of strong winds. The fire was contained in a region of 2.58 square kilometers.
“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 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,” states the National Park Service website.
Graham was arrested at the scene of the fire, and admitted to starting it with a cigarette lighter. The extent of the damage is currently being assessed by park services.