Fresno sheriff's deputies rip out over 3,500 marijuana plants on private property near Dunlap. The estimated value is $42 million dollars. The operation started early Thursday morning. As deputies convoy to the private property on the ground, a helicopter shows us the view from the air. As we approach, you can see just how much land is being used to grow marijuana. It's about five acres with 13 different gardens.
This bust is part of Operation Mercury. It’s a six county effort to knock out commercially grown pot being used to profit off of it. Lt. Rick Ko of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department says deputies spotted Mexican nationals tending the plants.
“It's not just local people that have started to plant and grow for either illnesses or profit. We actually have now foreign nationals coming in and growing in our county,” said Lt. Ko.
The property belongs to a family who was on the property at the time of the bust. About six people were detained while deputies pull up the plants and load them into the back of a pickup.
The family lives without power in crudely constructed buildings. A large pile of trash sits along the dirt road. Neighbors knew marijuana was growing and say it was a hazard. Stephen Fairchild has noticed a drastic increase in traffic up and down the dirt access road near his house. He's happy something has been done.
“I purchased [my home] thinking I had a nice piece of property with very little problems, and now there's problems,” said Fairchild.
The investigation is ongoing and it's unknown whether federal charges will be filed.
“One thing that is going to happen for sure is this marijuana is going to be off this property and destroyed,” said Lt. Ko.
Operation Mercury will continue through the end of the year.