Police: Argument led to arson

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comOctober 3, 2012 

— A 29-year-old Merced man was arrested Tuesday afternoon on suspicion of starting a fire after arguing with his wife at a Sixth Street apartment complex, displacing five families, Merced police said.

No injuries were resulted in the fire, which was reported at 4:15 p.m.

Police believe Santiago Ayala Lopez used blankets to set fire to his apartment at 612 W. Sixth St. after getting upset with his wife, according to Lt. Bimley West of the Merced police.

The department received at least one phone call Tuesday afternoon from neighbors reporting a domestic dispute. Nearly 10 minutes later, multiple 911 calls were received reporting the fire, police said.

When fire crews arrived, one unit of the single-story apartment building was fully engulfed in flames and two units were partially involved. The 25 firefighters on scene contained the two-alarm fire within one hour, according to Merced Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin.

Crews left the property at 11 p.m. Tuesday night, and another fire broke out in the same complex Wednesday morning around 3:30 a.m. The one-alarm fire was contained by 13 firefighters after 15 minutes.

The cause of the second fire is unknown and under investigation, McLaughlin said,

The five-unit apartment complex is uninhabitable and the displaced families are receiving help from the Red Cross.

Ayala Lopez was arrested on suspicion of arson and booked at the Merced County Jail. His bail is set at $108,000.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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