WAILUKU -- Maui police, working with state and federal enforcement officers,
hauled in more than 15,000 marijuana plants on Maui and Molokai last week,
Vice Division Capt. Gerald Matsunaga reported.

The eradication effort on Molokai, which brought in nearly 10,000 plants on
Wednesday and Thursday, is suspected to have prompted the outbreak of
deliberately set brush fires along isolated roads around West Molokai.

Capt. Milton Matsuoka, commander of the Molokai District, said officers have
been talking "to a bunch of people" in an investigation of the series of six
brush fires that began Wednesday afternoon, the same day the marijuana
harvesting operation began.

While there was no hard evidence to connect the fires with the harvesting
effort, Matsuoka said, "Definitely the fires were intentionally set.

"Whether they were connected to the harvesting, we can't say. But it sure is
a coincidence that they began just as the harvesting began," he said.

If the intention was to interfere with the marijuana harvesting, it didn't
work.

Matsunaga, commander of the Vice Division, said the harvesting effort was
able to continue despite the fires.

"But they did endanger the community and created a problem for the
firefighters who had to work overtime," he said.

A Windward Aviation helicopter crashed and was destroyed while helping to
fight a brush fire near the Molokai Agricultural Park on Wednesday. The
pilot suffered back injuries in the crash.

While most of the fires occurred in isolated areas, one of the fires near
Kaluakoi Road was fanned into a runaway fire by strong trade winds on
Saturday, crossing the Maunaloa Highway and threatening homes at Maunaloa
town.

Matsunaga said about 20 officers including personnel with the state
Department of Land and Natural Resources and from the federal Drug
Enforcement Administration assisted in the harvesting. He said the effort
was part of an ongoing task force to combat marijuana growing around the
islands.

The teams hauled in plants ranging in size from seedlings to 7 feet tall,
with 5,500 plants collected on Maui and 9,820 harvested on Molokai. He said
plants were found in agricultural fields as well as in state forest reserves
on both islands.

Matsunaga said there were no arrests, but the investigation of the marijuana
growing is continuing. He would not comment on whether there were any
suspects identified.

But he said the areas where marijuana was found had been targeted based on
information that police had developed.

"We have had intelligence coming in over the past year," he said.

He said the Vice Division is not actively involved in investigating the
brush fires on Molokai, but officers will be tapping their sources for
information to assist Molokai police. At the same time, he said the success
of the harvesting effort should have reduced the amount of marijuana
available in the community on Molokai and Maui.

"It will create an impact in the community, and hopefully it will affect the
dealers who are responsible," he said.


Pubdate: Thu, 3 Jul 2003
Source: Maui News, The (HI)
Contact: letters@mauinews.com
Copyright: 2003 The Maui News
Website: http://www.mauinews.com/