Man Charged in Fire at California Historic Landmark

This Monday, March 26, 2018 photo provided by Steve Raines shows a fire that broke out at Joshua Tree National Park, damaging a historical landmark. The National Park Service says the fire that broke out late Monday damaged the Oasis of Mara, a site settled by Native Americans who planted the 29 palm trees that inspired the name of the city of Twentynine Palms. (Steve Raines Photography via AP)

(CN) – Federal prosecutors have charged a 26-year-old man in connection to a small fire in Joshua Tree National Park that burned a historic California landmark this week.

George William Graham, of Twentynine Palms, was arrested on Monday night on suspicion of setting a 2.5-acre fire that damaged several palm trees at the Oasis of Mara, a historic site near the park’s visitor center, according to the state attorney’s office.

Shortly before 10 p.m. Monday, a park ranger found Graham watching the fire burn. He admitted to police he started the blaze, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday.

The day before the fire, authorities observed Graham in a nearby parking lot taking photos of patrol vehicles, according to a park ranger.

Graham told a sheriff’s officer he started the fire with a black lighter, which authorities believe they found within 50 yards of where fire investigators said the blaze started, according to the criminal complaint. The ranger also said shoe prints in the area matched the shoes Graham was wearing at the time.

An arson parolee, Graham has had previous run-ins with both the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and the National Park Service.

On Tuesday, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said no arrests were made related to the fire. Bachman did not return a phone call seeking clarification by press time Thursday.

Graham appeared in federal court on Wednesday and was charged with unlawfully lighting a fire on federal land, a felony. He faces up to five years and a fine of $250,000 if convicted on the charge.

He remains in federal custody pending his next appearance on April 11.

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