Federal and local law enforcement officers are trying to bust what's been described as a 'very large' marijuana grow. It was discovered in the mountains, more than eight miles northeast of the intersection of Comanche Drive and Breckenridge Road.
It's a dangerous mission. Agents and officers were met with gunfire Friday at the beginning of the search. Four people were taken into custody as of Friday afternoon. They are searching for more. Since the agents and officers heard gunshots, it's safe to assume those still hiding are armed.
Officers in helicopters and on the ground helped serve a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) search warrant for a pot grow. As officers moved in at 6:35 a.m., they heard a single shot, forcing SWAT and snipers to close off the area so no one could escape.
"As they were doing so, several minutes later they heard numerous gunshots coming from the area of the marijuana grow," said Ray Pruitt, Kern County Sheriff's Department.
Pruitt says busting up these large marijuana grows have become more dangerous and difficult. Earlier this month near Lake Isabella, Kern County Sheriff's deputies busted up another marijuana grow. Weapons and ammunition were seized, as well as 454 pot plants. They could have been worth well over a million dollars if sold. So expecting a fight when confronted is status quo for deputies facing growers protecting their investments.
"In these cases, yes," explained Pruitt. "We go into theses large marijuana grows expecting that these suspects are going to be armed and that the grows are going to be booby trapped."
There is also the possibility that violent Mexican drug cartels are moving grows into Kern County, escaping clashes in Mexico. In 2009, Sheriff Donny Youngblood addressed the concern.
"We have enough problems with gang violence," said Sheriff Youngblood. "That we don't need to battle drug cartels in Mexico."
Pruitt could not say if Friday's or recent busts have roots with the cartels. But, he did say they've seen more large grows moving out of the urban areas and into the mountains in hopes of never being discovered.
"These types of situations underscore how dangerous these marijuana grows can be to law enforcement and the public," explained Pruitt.
Pruitt says when all of the arrests at the latest sites are made, they will go back in to cultivate the plants, meaning cutting them down, airlift them out and bury them at an undisclosed location.