Marijuana found by fire crew

Firefighters at brush fire discover plants on private property

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

An untended campfire last week above Thane led to a small brush fire - which led to the discovery of an illegal marijuana patch.

Capital City Fire and Rescue got the report of smoke about 8:32 a.m. Thursday and, because it was located in the Tongass National Forest, turned the response over to the U.S. Forest Service, firefighters said.

``The Juneau Ranger District fire manager got right into a plane to size up the problem, while a five-person crew drove out the Thane Road,'' said Sheela McLean, the forest service's public information officer.

The crew made a steep climb to the 1,500-foot level of the southwest-facing slope where the fire was burning near Little Sheep Creek on Sheep Mountain. When the crew arrived, the smoky blaze encompassed about two or three acres, burning in dry grass and brush about 100 feet below the snow line, McLean said.

The fire was quickly extinguished. There were no structures in the area; nothing was threatened, she said. The cost of extinguishing the fire was about $1,000.

The fire was started by a campfire, McLean said.

``It's not rain forest unless it's raining,'' she said. ``Things dry out quickly in this sunny weather and people need to be careful.''

On their climb to the fire, the crew inadvertently crossed private property where they encountered 22 marijuana plants. That matter was turned over to the Alaska State Troopers' Southeast Alaska Narcotics Enforcement Team.

Trooper Sgt. Ray Culbreth, who heads SEANET, is searching for the marijuana gardeners by canvassing Thane residents and looking for leads.

``I left my business card (at the growing site) and I'm hoping they will call me,'' joked Culbreth.

Culbreth said the plants will be sent to the state crime lab in Anchorage. By analyzing and weighing the plants, the lab can pin down the variety and perhaps link it to known growers or suppliers of that variety. Dwarf varieties are favored, he said, because more of the intoxicating agent known as THC winds up in the buds and not in leaves.

The plants had been started indoors, Culbreth said, and transplanted to the outdoor site about a week before. They ranged from 8 to 14 inches. It's hard to spot marijuana in the underbrush, he said.

``They blend so well with the environment that unless you are in close proximity it's hard to pick them out'' of other plant growth, he said.

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