Nearly 15,000 marijuana plants removed; growers blamed for fire

— Madera County Sheriff's OfficeJune 18, 2013 

Agents with the Madera County Narcotic Enforcement Team (MADNET) eradicated nearly 15,000 marijuana plants June 12 at two separate sites in the Sierra National Forest.

Working at an elevation of 6,000 feet, it took agents 12 hours to haul out thousands of marijuana plants and reclaim nearly five miles of destroyed wilderness.

During the operation, agents removed four miles of drip line and more than 2,000 pounds of waste.

The first garden, Upper Chiquito Creek, is the same location where fire crews battled a 40-acre forest fire last month. It has been determined the fire had been set by the growing operation. Although the surrounding area was scorched, the plants survived.

Five miles away, agents tackled a second garden near lower Chiquito Creek, located close to a popular public campground.

Due to the location and steep terrain, the only way agents were able to get in and out was by helicopter. Aerial support was supplied by the U.S. Forest Service.

"Timing these eradication missions is always a gamble," said John Anderson, Madera County sheriff. "Depending on the weather, marijuana season generally lasts between May and late August. If we remove the plants too quickly, we give drug traffickers time to replant," Anderson said.

By destroying the entire operation, agents were able to deny growers any chance of returning to the site and planting again before the season ends.

Anderson said, just like Bailey Flats, Chiquito Creek is popular among drug traffickers.

"Both areas, while hard to reach, provide three basic if not vital needs — water, sunlight, and above all seclusion," Anderson said.

Agents say the growing operations are tied to drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico.

In addition to the marijuana plants and irrigation systems, agents removed propane tanks, stockpiled food, bags of fertilizer and drums of chemicals, clothing, bedding, tools and trash.

No arrests were made during the operation.

Agents with MADNET, along with U.S. Forest Service officers, California Department of Fish & Wildlife and personnel with Madera County's SWAT Team, carried out the operation.

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