TURLOCK — Three women trying to kill a man sparked a massive fire at a defunct cheese plant, police said Wednesday.
Police arrested Lanette Sullivan, 46, Wanda White, 45, and Erika Cardy, 24, Wednesday on charges of arson and attempted murder in Tuesday night's fire. All are considered transients, police said.
The three women were involved in a dispute with the man and had found shelter at the former Lactalis USA building on West Main Street, authorities said.
It's not clear if any of those involved had been living in the building, but "they were there for the night," said officer Mayra Lewis, spokeswoman for the Turlock Police Department. The plant, like other empty buildings in the valley, has attracted homeless people looking to avoid the elements without going to a shelter.
"The victim and one of the females got into a verbal argument," Lewis said. "At some point, it escalated into a physical fight."
In an effort to escape the women, the man climbed into the rafters.
"The female he was engaged in an argument with along with the two other females started the fire, knowing that the victim was in the rafters," Lewis said. Investigators aren't saying what materials were used to start the fire, but Lewis said it involved "items already in the building."
The man, whose name was not released, managed to get away. Fire Chief Tim Lohman said no injuries were reported.
The blaze, reported at 7:19 p.m., consumed much of the interior of the 59,000-square-foot building, as well as its supports, Lohman said.
It took 29 firefighters from Turlock and agencies from Ceres and Modesto several hours to extinguish the fire, using 900,000 gallons of water. Crews remained on the scene much of Wednesday, checking for hot spots, Lohman said.
A preliminary estimate put the damage at $5 million. The plant, which has been closed since 2007, will be torn down. 'That's our plan, to have it demolished," Lohman said. "That's going to be our next project over the next day or two."
Although it was by far the biggest fire of the night, the cheese plant blaze was one of four in Turlock. Lohman said one of the other fires was electrical and another was accidental; the cause of the fourth fire was under investigation, but it's not believed to be related to the plant blaze.
Investigators ask anyone with information on the case to call Detective Frank Navarro at (209) 668-5550, ext. 6619.