Graham, Oasis Of Mara Arsonist, Given Maximum Five Year Sentence

George William Graham, the 26-year-old arsonist who readily admitted to starting the conflagration that destroyed a considerable portion of the Oasis of Mara in Joshua Tree National Park, was sentenced to a 60-month federal prison sentence earlier this month.
Graham on September 10 came before 94-year-old United States District Judge Manuel L. Real, the oldest and longest serving member of the federal judiciary. Real, who was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson, did not hesitate in giving Graham the stiffest sentence permissible under federal law for the crime he had committed.
The Oasis of Mara has both historic and prehistoric significance beyond its striking ecological and environmental presence. Located directly behind the Joshua Tree Oasis Visitor Center and Joshua Tree National Park Headquarters, the oasis was encountered by early American survey parties in the 1850s, centuries after the indigenous people of the area had been tapping into it as a source of water.
The oasis was first settled by the Serrano, who referred to it by the word “Mara,” translated as “place of little springs and much grass.” Legend is that a medicine man recommended the spring water, which he claimed would have the effect of blessing those who drank it with “many boy babies.” Per the medicine man’s instructions, the Serrano planted a palm tree at the oasis with the birth of each boy into a nearby clan. At one point there were 29 palm trees at the site and the name “29 Palms” was given to the area, which before the turn of the 19th to the 20th century was attracting miners and cattlemen.
According to county authorities, a call just after 9 p.m. on March 26 summoned the San Bernardino County Fire Department, the National Park Service/Bureau of Land Management Fire Division, and National Park Service rangers and San Bernardino County sheriff’s personnel to the oasis.
There they saw rapidly spreading flames and Graham, who still at the scene of the fire admiring his handiwork, as the blaze spectacularly and dramatically illuminated the night sky with two fireballs, one half way up one palm tree and another near the apex of another palm tree.
Even before the flames were fully doused, rangers were in contact with Graham, who upon questioning, according to authorities, openly acknowledged using a cigarette lighter to ignite flames at multiple spots around the oasis.
Firefighters managed to contain the path of destruction to 2.5 acres, with some 9,989 square feet completely charred. Grasses, bushes, and other vegetation were consumed. Two palm trees were damaged beyond recovery. Some archeological resources were substantially destroyed.
Graham had two prior arson convictions, having previously been sentenced to four years in state prison. He had been released on parole after serving a portion of his sentence, and was yet on parole when he lit the Mara fire. Real imposed on Graham a statutory maximum 60 month sentence after hearing from Assistant United States Attorneys Carolyn Small and Julia L. Reese.
Mark Gutglueck

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