James Lyles said he was using a cutting torch in his body shop on 3636 Highway 80 when he accidentally ignited a flammable liquid. The fire quickly spread and he tried everything he could to put the fire out himself until a Phenix City police officer ordered him out of the building for his own safety.
"I ran back on the inside, tried to grab my fire extinguisher and put it out. At first, it was so upsetting while I was just sitting here waiting for them to come, but God just put peace over me. He said, don't worry about it. He's going to take care of it so I'm just leaving it in his hands," said Lyles, of Transform Rides Transform Minds Auto Customizing.
For Lyles, the experience was both frightening and frustrating. He stood by helplessly, waiting for the fire department to arrive while watching everything he has worked for turn to ashes.
Ladonia Fire Chief Thomas Kane said, "When we got on scene, every part of the building, multiple cars, were burned. The structure was a complete loss."
The fire department said the combination of gasoline and other flammable chemicals made this fire very difficult to fight.
Due to a shortage of volunteers, they had to ask for assistance from Phenix City.
Lyles was working on cars for several customers, and his own Mercedes was one of the casualties.
"I was going to try and repaint it, to get it ready for the summer, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen now," said Lyles.
"I believe, at the time, we had six vehicles that were on fire. But just the combination of everything. We actually never made entrance into the building. We just fought the fire from a defensive stance," said Kane.
Chief Kane said one of the biggest obstacles they faced Thursday was a lack of response from other volunteer departments and he attributes that to the time of day.
Regular business hours are a difficult time for volunteers because they generally have 9-5 jobs they can't get away from.
He said the need for more recruits has never been greater.
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