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Huge Opium Bust in Madera County

It was a first in California when authorities raided a plantation growing tens of thousands of opium plants in a national forest in Madera County.

U.S. Forest Service officers say the opium crop was found near North Fork on Wednesday. It was estimated that up to 40,000 plants, which could be turned into heroin, were growing in the area about 45 miles northeast of Fresno.

Workers of the Sierra National Forest and Madera County were removing and burning the plants yesterday. No arrests were made. But a suspected opium cultivator with cuts on his face and brown residue on his hands was stopped and questioned.

The Forest Service said a hiker had spotted the lavender and green flowered opium poppies on two acres of fire-ravaged area of the Sierra National Forest.

It has been home to illegal marijuana gardens in the past.