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Fire at Joshua Tree Damages California Landmark


FILE - The sun sets behind joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms, California, Jan. 16, 2013.

A suspected arson fire at Joshua Tree National Park in California has damaged a historical landmark.

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 nearby city Twentynine Palms, according to the National Park Service.

Strong winds stoked the rapid spread of the fire, which was contained at less than a square mile (2.58 square kilometers), said Eric Sherwin, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Photos show multiple trees ablaze as firefighters snuffed out the flames in less than an hour.

In the light of day Tuesday, at least half a dozen palms looked more like burnt matchsticks jutting out of the ground.

The fire is being investigated as arson, the National Park Service said. No arrests have been made.

Initial assessments show damage to vegetation and wildlife and potential impact on archaeological resources, the agency said.

The agency did not describe the extent of the damage, saying a full assessment still needed to be conducted.

Steve Raines, a longtime Twentynine Palms resident and a professional photographer, was in the area when a friend texted him that the Oasis of Mara was on fire.

Raines raced to the scene to take photos.

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

The Serrano people settled the oasis, naming it Mara, "the place of little springs and much grass."

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

Raines said it was tough to watch the oasis burning.

"It's a piece of history," he said. "It's always heartbreaking seeing something like that go up in flames."

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