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3 women start cheese plant fire in effort to kill man, police say

February 21, 2013 | 12:09 pm

Three Turlock women could face charges of arson and attempted murder after allegedly starting a massive fire at a shuttered cheese plant during an argument with a man, authorities said.

Erika Cardy, 24, Lanette Sullivan, 46, and Wanda White, 45, all identified as transients, had found shelter at the former Lactalis USA building Tuesday night, police told the Modesto Bee.

One of the women got into an argument with an unidentified man that escalated to a physical altercation, Turlock police Officer Mayra Lewis told the newspaper. The man then climbed into the plant's rafters in an attempt to escape.

The women then allegedly started the fire "knowing that the victim was in the rafters," Lewis said.

The man managed to get away unharmed, Fire Chief Tom Lohman told the Bee.

The fire, meanwhile, ravaged the 59,000-square-foot building. Initial estimates put the total damage at about $5 million. Lohman told the newspaper the plant would probably be demolished.

Closed since 2007, the plant "has attracted homeless people looking to avoid the elements without going to a shelter," the newspaper said.

During its operation, the plant primarily produced brie and "other specialty cheeses," the Bee said.

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— Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

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