The Toppenish Public Works Department is expected to be back in operation Thursday morning, less than a day after a fire destroyed its workshop.
“It might slow down some of our responses for water and sewer,” City Manager Lance Hoyt said Wednesday evening, as firefighters were spraying down the remains of the 108-year-old building at 8 Buena Way. The fire destroyed city vehicles, along with tools and equipment stored in the building.
There were no serious injuries reported.
Hoyt said the department can also call on neighboring communities to help with public works needs.
In terms of property loss, the fire was one of the worst in recent Toppenish history, at an estimated $1 million in damage, Fire Chief Timothy Smith said.
“When Amish Connection burned about 12, 14 years ago, that was a million dollars,” Smith recalled. “Gibbons Drug Store 15 years ago was a million-dollar fire.”
He said it was the first commercial-type building to burn in Toppenish in recent years.
The cause was under investigation, Smith said. An employee told firefighters he was cleaning a paint sprayer when something ignited the paint, Smith said.
The employee tried to put the flames out with a fire extinguisher before getting out of the building and calling 911, Smith said.
Firefighters responding within three minutes of the 2:40 p.m. call found the block-structure in flames. Because of the danger, firefighters from Toppenish, Zillah and Yakima County Fire District 5 fought the fire from outside the building.
By 4 p.m., the building’s roof was gone, having either burned away or collapsed.
Six city-owned pickups were destroyed, as well as a forklift, an air compressor and other tools inside the workshop, Smith said. Two employees’ cars parked next to the building were damaged, Smith said.
An employee was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation but refused to go to the hospital, Smith said.
Authorities closed Buena Way as crews battled the blaze. Traffic was flowing again by 6 p.m., Hoyt said.
A cellphone antenna on the department’s old water tower was shut down when utility crews cut electricity to the site, Smith said.
Built in 1909, the building was originally the home of the city’s water department, housing a city well that has since been decommissioned. Hoyt said it has been added on to over the years into its current configuration.
At the time of the fire, it was being used as a workshop, storage space and employee break room.
Hoyt said the city will likely rebuild it, using a more efficient layout.