A firefighter surveys the damage as crews from Toppenish, Yakima County and Zillah fire departments respond to a structure fire at Toppenish Public Works in Toppenish, Wash., Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. Several city vehicles, two employee vehicles, various tools and one of the department’s buildings were destroyed in the blaze at an estimated $1million. The cause is under investigation. (SHAWN GUST/Yakima Herald-Republic)

TOPPENISH, Wash. -- Toppenish’s Public Works Department is changing the way it conducts monthly safety meetings in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed the department’s building in late August.

A committee of employees will be asked to suggest training topics they feel need to be addressed, said Public Works Director Rocky Wallace.

The increased emphasis on training and safety comes after a fire erupted Aug. 23 in the public works building where an employee was cleaning a sprayer used to paint lines on streets.

Fumes from the volatile cleaning chemical were ignited by a spark or flame from an unknown source, setting off a fire that eventually engulfed the entire building, Fire Chief Timothy Smith said.

The employee unsuccessfully used a fire extinguisher to fight the fire. But the building, parts of which dated to 1904, was destroyed, along with five city vehicles and two vehicles belonging to employees.

“It should have been cleaned outside, in a well-ventilated area, but it wasn’t,” Smith said.

City Manager Lance Hoyt said the employee, whom he declined to identify, was given an oral reprimand for using the thinner indoors. Wallace said the employee had received safety instruction on the equipment and its care at the monthly meetings.

Smith said earlier that the building’s lack of fire sprinklers contributed to the fire’s rapid growth. Because of its age, the building was exempt from modern building code requirements to have a fire suppression system.

Losses are estimated at $2.4 million for the building, equipment and vehicles.

Hoyt said that after insurance adjusters and others finish their reports, the city will remove the vehicles from the site and demolish what remains of the building and rebuild it.

In the meantime, the department is using a trailer to house the public works office, Hoyt said.

• Donald W. Meyers can be reached at 509-577-7748 or Follow him on Twitter at