LOS ANGELES – A Twentynine Palms man today received a statutory maximum sentence of 60 months in federal prison for illegally starting a fire in the Oasis of Mara in Joshua Tree National Park, which damaged historic trees and other resources earlier this year.
George William Graham, 26, was sentenced by United States District Judge Manuel L. Real. In addition to the five-year prison sentence, Judge Real ordered Graham to pay $21,019 in restitution to the National Park Service.
Graham pleaded guilty in June to a felony charge of unlawfully setting a fire (technically known as timber set afire). Graham specifically admitted in the plea agreement that he started the March 26 fire by igniting a palm frond with a handheld lighter, and “[t]he 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.” Seven California fan palms and scores of other plants were essentially destroyed in the blaze.
National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers arrested Graham at the scene of the fire after he was observed watching the blaze.
When he started the fire in Joshua Tree National Park, Graham already had two prior arson convictions for which he received sentences of four years in state prison. Graham was still on parole for one of those convictions at the time.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the National Park Service, with assistance from the United States Bureau of Land Management, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, and the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
The sentencing in this case was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Carolyn Small of the General Crimes Section and Julia L. Reese of the Criminal Appeals Section.