Two Atlanta-area men were arrested Thursday after investigators discovered them allegedly growing nearly 13,000 marijuana plants over several acres in north Georgia.
The value of the marijuana is estimated at more than $15 million, the Gilmer County Sheriff's Office said Friday. Investigators spotted the grow operation, on 3 to 4 acres on Ga. 52 East near Southern Road, while searching the county from the air, Brandon Owens, commander of the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force, said Friday.
Near the plants, officers found a tent and kitchen with fresh vegetables and food, a bathroom area near a creek, and a generator, gas and extension cords. Two water cisterns were also located, and one had a pump to bring water from the creek up the side of a mountain, the task force said.
A total of 12,887 plants were removed from the area.
Later Thursday, two men were spotted climbing a fence about a half-mile away.
The men, Miguel Angel Silva, 31, of Roswell, and Angel Adrian Ramirez, 19, of Chamblee, were arrested and later charged with manufacturing marijuana, according to police. Both Silva and Ramirez were booked into the Gilmer County jail, where they remained Friday evening without bond.
During the task force's search Thursday, two other suspected marijuana grows were also located in Gilmer County.
In the area of Tickanetley and Old Parker Place roads, an abandoned camp site and about 25 marijuana plants were found. But based on empty holes in the ground, investigators estimated that approximately 5,000 plants were grown there at one time.
A third grow was located behind a home on Brushy Top Road, according to the task force.
"When the helicopter flew over, the homeowner, later identified as John Michael Wicker, started burning the plants using gasoline," the task force said in an emailed statement.
While a Georgia State Patrol trooper was attempting to take Wicker into a custody, the trooper's pants caught fire, burning his legs. The trooper was treated and released from a local hospital, police said.
Investigators said they found 19 marijuana plants and two firearms at the home.
Wicker, 51, was arrested and charged with manufacturing marijuana, tampering with evidence, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and misdemeanor obstruction. He was booked into the Gilmer jail and was being held Friday without bond.
Ellijay, the county seat of Gilmer County, is about 80 miles north of Atlanta.
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