SALINAS, Calif. -

A major pot bust near the Soberanes Fire cleared out more than 17,000 plants.
The marijuana plants were found deep in a national forest. Agents from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Justice were called in to help.

The Monterey County Sheriff's Office says with cases like this, it's challenging to find those who are responsible.

"Right now I don't believe we have any direct information as to who it was. Our experience has shown that people that are there taking care of it don't even necessarily know which county they are in. They are paid, they are told not necessarily what they are doing," Cmdr. John Thornburg said.

The wildfire burning near Big Sur has driven some of these illegal activities out of the wilderness.

"The stuff in the national forest have been kind of big because of the fire, and people are hearing about the 'hikers' that are coming out that we rescued when in fact, they are tenders of marijuana grows,” Thornburg said.

Authorities rescued a group of illegal pot growers after they were trapped in the forest for days in July.

The Monterey County Sheriff's Office says it averages 12 to 15 illegal marijuana busts a year and hauling out the plants is not their only job.

"A lot of times, these turn into clean-up operations. We don't get anybody in custody but we clean up the area as best we can because they bring in a lot of things that shouldn't be there," Thornburg said.

With a big fire, illegal pot growth can be potentially dangerous for firefighters.

"The big threat is some of the herbicide and pesticides that are brought in. That stuff is very hazardous, very noxious, and if that's exposed to fire, then that creates a very toxic environment," said Joseph English of the U.S. Forrest Service.

And as if that weren't enough, there are safety concerns, too.

"If it is potentially big cartels, they may have a retaliation against our firefighters, who are here to help," English said.

Deputies say they also seized more than 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana, removed 1,400 pounds of trash and nearly 20 propane tanks during the seizure.