PINE VALLEY, Washington County — Police raided two illegal marijuana farms this week, netting almost 10,000 plants and arresting five suspected of growing marijuana.
On Wednesday, local and federal law enforcement officials eradicated more than 1,100 plants at an abandoned field near Central, Washington County. Police believe the growers at that site may have fled after several other fields nearby were raided last week, said Drug Enforcement Agency special agent Sue Thomas.
On Thursday, more than 50 officers raided a field perched high in a remote canyon just north of Pine Valley. During that raid, police arrested five men and booked them on federal drug charges. A sixth man is believed to have gotten away.
During the initial chase, an officer fired at least one "less lethal" rubber bullet, but it is unclear whether it hit any of the suspects, said Washington County Drug Task Force commander David Moss.
No one was reported injured in the raid.
Officers also seized about 150 pounds of processed marijuana.
The five men in custody represent the most arrests made at any one field since seven people were arrested in one raid last year. Three raids in the Pine Valley Mountains last week resulted in five arrests.
Because of the remote locations and difficult terrain, such raids require resources from many agencies, said special agent Brad Cox, who is one of two DEA agents covering southern Utah.
"It is really a collaborative effort that takes a lot of preplanning," he said.
Officers from the DEA, Utah Highway Patrol, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Washington County Drug Task Force, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Adult Probation and Parole participated in both raids.
Thursday's operation also included officers from the St. George police SWAT team and four K9 units from Iron County and the Cedar City Police Department, Cox said.
Thursday's raid is the sixth this year in Washington County, Moss said. Last year, there were two.
Competition on the West Coast has led to more marijuana farms in Utah and crews this year have eradicated more than 90,000 plants, Thomas said.
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