The mayor of Grand Manan is appealing for calm after about 40 people from the New Brunswick island allegedly attacked a group of locals they suspected of dealing drugs.

"People of Grand Manan are usually a very law-abiding group," Dennis Greene said Monday. "This just shows their frustration with what's going on."

Greene said most people on the island supported those residents who reportedly attacked suspected drug dealers in the hamlet of Castalia on Friday night.

"They feel like they have done a service for the island by their actions," the mayor said.

About 15 people suffered minor injuries in the incident, Greene said.

Rioters torched a house behind the Castalia convenience store that is owned by a Saint John resident and threw rocks at the volunteer firefighters who came to put out the fire. The house was left a smouldering ruin.

Greene said shots were fired into a vehicle, but no one was hit.

'It was just mayhem'

Castalia resident Allen Newman told CBC News that he was startled awake when he heard three gunshots early Saturday morning.

Newmansaid hesaw the RCMP heading down his road, flashing their lights, and decided to see what was happening.

"I took a walk up and it was just mayhem," he said. "There were about 40 to 60 people and a brawl broke out — well, actually there was more than one. There was just one right after the other. "

Newman says the brawlers were angry with a suspected drug dealer.

"They're just tired of it," Newman said. "They're tired of their lives being ruined by the crack and the coke and the pills and the other drugs that are around here and they don't want it no more."

RCMP Sgt. Greg MacAvoy told the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal that police were investigating reports that a group of locals, mostly fishermen, attacked a smaller group of people they suspected of pushing drugs.

"We've heard the same sort of tale," MacAvoy said. "Right now, we're in the course of inquiring and investigating to see if we can identify who was involved."

The investigation could be lengthy, given the number of people involved and the nature of the riot, he said.

MacAvoy said the three officers who tried to quell the riot were not physically threatened.

Normally, only four RCMP members work on Grand Manan, but MacAvoy said he will draw on his pool of 43 officers who work in Charlotte County and the isles.

Mayor says residents frustrated

Greene said he has never heard of anything like this in the 53 years he has lived on the island, which is located in the Bay of Fundy near New Brunswick's border with Maine.

While he does not condone violence as a solution to the island's drug problem, the mayor said he understands why people are so frustrated.

He attends court in Grand Manan once a month and he said he is appalled by the lenient sentences being handed down.

"I know my frustration is with the justice system," Greene said.

"The RCMP are doing all they can to stop this activity, and then you see a drug dealer going up before a judge and he gets house arrest. That just makes it more convenient for him to do business."

In the meantime, Greene said he would like to see more police officers on the island.

"It does concern me that we only have four police officers," he said, adding that reinforcements must come by airplane, helicopter orferry.

The ferry takes four hours. "A lot can happen in four hours," Greene said.