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This Heat-Sensing Helicopter Can Find Your Illicit Marijuana-Grow House

British police busted an apartment-tower grow operation after noticing its heat signature through the walls.

Here's one dude probably upset by the West Midlands Police department's bust of a marijuana grow operation: Benjamin Edwards, the 28-year-old Briton who allegedly tended the site's 143 cannabis plants. And here are a few more likely disappointed people: Edwards' neighbors, who must've been getting cut-rate utility bills from all the radiant heat the operation pumped into the walls.

It was this prodigious warmth that doomed the urban-weed enterprise, tucked inside a 10th-floor apartment in the city of Birmingham. Although the plants were hidden inside the building, their heating and lighting equipment threw off so much energy it created a hot spot on the apartment's facade. To a police helicopter patrolling the neighborhood with an infrared camera, this feverish zone leaped out like a burning star in a slate-gray sky.

The helicopter just happened to be returning from a wanted-persons search in May when it picked up the unusual heat signature, the police explained Tuesday:

West Midlands Police Deputy Air Operations Manager Martin Knowles, said: “The crew were heading back from a search in the Solihull area when they noticed a clear heat source at a flat in Nechells.

“Our thermal cameras can detect unusually high temperatures coming from properties several thousand feet away – anyone growing cannabis on a commercial scale, using rows of heat lamps, runs the very real risk their criminality will be rumbled from the skies.”...

Police search teams found the plants – which had potential to yield drugs with a street value of around £30,000 – scattered throughout the Nechells flat which had been modified to accommodate light, irrigation and ventilation systems.

On Friday, a Birmingham judge gave Edwards a suspended 2-year sentence and an order to attend drug rehab. He no doubt will have lots of company in rehab from his fellow growers, as this is the 399th marijuana factory the West Midlands Police have raided this year alone.

The U.K. is in a bit of a cannabis renaissance right now, with a national police association estimating last year that 21 marijuana farms are uncovered each day. The infrared trickery is just one method that the narcs are using to hunt weed farmers. They also look for things like large deliveries of soil and lighting equipment, bootleg house vents and hacked electrical wiring, and windows layered with condensation. The BBC adds the interesting item that growers "do not appear to be environmentally friendly," and sometimes make the mistake of plopping bags of old soil at nearby dumpsters, instead of the less-suspicious compost bins.

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