updated 7/25/2007 7:19:28 AM ET 2007-07-25T11:19:28

The burned bodies of two people were found near a marijuana plantation where police discovered 50,000 plants and arrested five people this month, authorities said.

The bodies found Tuesday appeared to have burned in a wildfire that consumed about 35,000 acres in the Inyo National Forest this month, Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze said.

But their location near the marijuana growing area, as well as other undisclosed evidence, led authorities to believe the victims were involved in the drug operation, Lutze said.

The bodies were found eight miles northwest of Independence, between the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo Mountains, about 225 miles north of Los Angeles.

'Backpacking'
Authorities were led to the unidentified bodies by four men who claimed they were looking for two missing relatives, Lutze said.

“They dropped them off apparently to go ‘backpacking’ a few weeks ago,” he said. “They were supposed to make contact within the first few days and hadn’t.”

Deputies were questioning the four, but the men were not suspected of wrongdoing, Lutze said.

The area where the bodies were found was part of a huge marijuana-growing operation that federal, state and local agents raided during a three-month investigation that ended Monday, officials said.

Five illegal immigrants from Mexico were arrested in the raid, Lutze said.

Three of the suspects, who were arrested on July 15, have been taken into custody by U.S. Forest Service and Drug Enforcement Agency officials and face federal charges, he said.

Two others arrested Monday were being charged in Inyo County with cultivation of marijuana, he said.

The investigation began when hikers who saw the marijuana plantations nestled in the forest tipped off authorities, Lutze said.

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