Joshua Tree fire burns landmark, arson suspected, officials say

A fire that erupted late Monday night at Joshua Tree National Park in California is being investigated for arson after a historical landmark suffered damage, officials said.

The blaze affected the Oasis of Mara, home to the 29 palm trees planted by the Serrano, a Native American tribe who settled there, the National Park Service said. The tribe dubbed the oasis Mara, which means “the place of little springs and much grass.”

The flames, which were controlled at less than a square mile, were emboldened by strong winds, Eric Sherwin, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, told The Associated Press. It took less than an hour for firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

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Authorities are investigating the incident as arson, the National Park Service said. No arrests have been made. While a full assessment into the damage has not yet been conducted, initial findings show damage to vegetation and wildlife and a potential impact on archaeological resources, the agency said.

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)

Steve Raines said of the oasis: "It's always heartbreaking seeing something like that go up in flames."  (Steve Raines Photography via AP)

Steve Raines, a photographer and resident of Twentynine Palms, a nearby city whose name was inspired by the trees, captured images of the scene showing the bright orange glow of the fire burning against the dark sky.

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"It's significant damage," he said. "And it looks like it's going to be damaged for a long time."

Raines described the landmark as “a piece of history” and said “It’s always heartbreaking seeing something like that go up in flames.”

The oasis, located near Joshua Tree's headquarters and a bustling visitor's center, is among the first sites for the millions of people who visit the park every year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.