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Helicopter Spots Marijuana Crop Worth $500,000

September 20, 1993| From a Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND NATIONAL FOREST — An Orange County sheriff's helicopter investigating reports of gunfire Saturday discovered about 3,000 carefully tended marijuana plants almost ready for harvesting.

Sheriff's investigator Sgt. Al Coutts said Sunday that the value of the crop found on a quarter-acre near Ortega Highway was conservatively estimated at $500,000. No arrests were made.

"It was a very well-thought-out operation," Coutts said, and included a sophisticated drip irrigation system using 900 feet of garden hose linked to a stream.

The helicopter had been dispatched to investigate a report of gunshots. While scouring the extremely rough terrain from the air, deputies "observed this high, almost fluorescent green patch," Coutts said, "a virtual forest . . . tucked in among the oak trees."

The sheriff's bomb squad went in first to search for booby traps, then narcotics officers walked and crawled in from the highway along a dry creek bed. Deputies stood guard over the plot until reinforcements arrived Sunday to cut down the plants.

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