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Crews tear down cheese plant destroyed in arson fire
cheese plant pic
Leas Demolition has begun tearing down the charred shell of the former Lactalis USA cheese plant that was destroyed by an arson fire in February. - photo by SABRA STAFFORD / The Journal

The process of removing the charred rubble and burnt out husk of the vacant Turlock cheese plant began earlier this week.

Lea’s Demolition is handling the teardown of the former Lactalis USA facility that was destroyed in a Feb. 19 arson fire. The project began Monday and is estimated to take three weeks for completion, said the demolition company’s owner Troy Lea.

“The fire did most of the work in bringing it down,” Lea said. “Now it’s is just the tedious process of separating everything.”

Most of the debris will be taken to a landfill, with the exception of the concrete, which goes to a crushing yard and the metal, which goes to a scrap yard, Lea said.

The 59,000 square foot facility was set ablaze allegedly by three Turlock women. The three women, identified as Lanette Sullivan, 46, of Turlock; Wanda White, 45, of Turlock; and Erika Clardy, 24, of Turlock have all been charged with attempted murder and felony arson of an inhabited dwelling in connection with the fire. The charges against the women allege they set the fire after an argument erupted between Sullivan and a former boyfriend, who was hiding in the facility’s rafters. The victim was able to escape the flames unharmed.

All three women are being held at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center in lieu of bails of $1.8 million each.

The building has been vacant since 2007 when Lactalis USA shuttered their local operations. In the ensuing years it has been a regular target for thieves seeking copper wiring and recyclables. It also was routinely used by transients seeking shelter.