Traffic was diverted on the South Loop Tuesday as fire crews from Stephenville and Erath County responded to a fire at Parham’s Garage.

Employees were inside the building when the fire erupted, but everyone got out safely and no one was hurt.

Firefighters battled the blaze in two stalls located inside the garage, as thick smoke billowed out of the overhead doors.

“When we arrived at the scene there was heavy smoke coming out of two doors located on the west side of the building,” Stephenville Fire Chief Jimmy Chew said.

Chew said firefighters initially had trouble gaining entry to the building because heat from the fire disabled the springs in the overhead doors, making them difficult to open. He said a firefighter had to “crawl” inside the building, then lift the overhead doors by hand to get inside. Once fire crews entered the building, Chew said they were able to get the fire under control “very quickly,” though the heat generated inside the metal building made it difficult for firefighters.

“It was like fighting a fire inside a metal oven,” Chew said.

Stephenville Fire Marshal Gary Nabors said a preliminary investigation indicates the fire started in a jeep that was being worked on inside the garage. A welder was attempting to repair the vehicle’s door hinge. Nabors said about 30 minutes after the work was completed, someone inside the garage smelled smoke and called for help. By the time employees reached the stall where the vehicle was located, “there was so much smoke you couldn’t see.”

Nabors said it appears that fire had smoldered “in a concealed space inside the body panel” of the vehicle before the flames erupted.

Four other vehicles were also inside the garage at the time of the fire, Nabors said. Though none caught fire, the vehicles suffered extensive smoke and heat damage.

Sara Vanden Berge covers courts, law enforcement, and business and political issues for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at sara.vandenberge@empiretribune.com. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.