Smoke jumpers land in a large marijuana garden in the Applegate

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department released this photograph of small marijuana plants seized from a forest garden in the Applegate.

A team of smoke jumpers fighting fires in the Applegate unknowingly dropped into a 1,500-plant marijuana garden this week, sheriff's officials said.

The smoke jumpers parachuted into the garden as they were searching for lightning-sparked fires, Jackson County sheriff's spokeswoman Andrea Carlson said.

The firefighters contacted law enforcement, who pulled the plants from the site on Tuesday, Carlson said.

The sheriff's office said it is unusual to find a large marijuana garden this early in the year. People usually stumble into the gardens in the late summer or early fall.

The grow site was littered with hills of garbage, much of it harmful chemicals that can pollute soil and streams in the area, officials said.

There were 1,509 plants at the site, along with hundreds of additional holes dug for future planting. Authorities also found two long guns and other evidence that suggested the garden was part of a Mexican cartel operation, Carlson said.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department and United States Forest Service law enforcement want to remind people who are recreating on public lands to be aware of illegal marijuana grows in Southern Oregon.

Signs you may be near a marijuana grow include PVC piping or black poly-pipe, bags of fertilizer, large quantities of trash and camp sites.

If you notice anything suspicious, leave by the way you came in. If possible take note of the location on your GPS, if you have one, and make a waypoint. Do not linger or investigate further. Upon returning home, call your local sheriff's department and provide accurate road descriptions and drainage or creek names.

— Chris Conrad

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