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Fiery explosion destroys Dunedin home; man and his dog injured

DUNEDIN — Andrea Perhac was inside her two-story house in a quiet suburban neighborhood Wednesday morning when a loud explosion rattled the home.

"All of a sudden, it was 'Ba-boom!' " Perhac said.

Through her back windows, she watched as flames engulfed the one-story house that borders her back yard.

Fire officials said an explosion destroyed the home Wednesday morning — blasting roof trusses into nearby yards and leaving only a charred skeleton of what had been a 1,280-square-foot, $163,000 house.

Firefighters arrived at the home and found the owner, Duane Cole, 46, lying semiconscious in his back yard. He was taken by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital with injuries that Pinellas sheriff's officials said were not life threatening.

His dog, Jingles, also was found injured in the debris and was taken to a local animal hospital. The dog was in guarded condition Wednesday night.

Investigators didn't know if Cole was inside or outside the house at the time of the explosion, said Bill McElligott, division chief of Dunedin Fire Rescue.

Investigators had not determined a cause of the explosion by Wednesday night.

Firefighters arrived at the house, 1524 Michigan Blvd., shortly after receiving reports of a "loud, sharp explosion" at 10:24 a.m., McElligott said.

Fire officials said there are no natural gas lines or underground propane tanks at the house. There was a propane barbecue grill, McElligott said, but he declined to elaborate because of the ongoing investigation.

The explosion was heard several blocks away.

In addition to destroying most of Cole's home, the blast knocked down a fence that separated his property from Perhac's and sent part of his roof into her yard. The fire produced a cloud of dark smoke visible miles away.

Nearby homes were evacuated and traffic rerouted for a few hours as fire crews worked at the scene.

Cole's stepson, Brandon Haring, 17, heard about the explosion at school and came to the house Wednesday afternoon. He said his mother, Kelley Cole, and Duane Cole recently separated but that she was en route to the hospital to check on him.

"She is pretty jittery … pretty scared," Haring said.

Cole has joint ownership of the house with his wife, according to property records.

Cole lives alone and is a construction worker, neighbors said.

Records show Cole has an arrest record in Florida that includes drug and theft charges.

A neighbor, Bob Longhini, said he ran outside after hearing the boom and saw smoke coming from Cole's house. The entire garage was blown out.

"We thought (the explosion) was some kind of crash," Longhini said.

Because Cole's white pickup truck was in the driveway, Longhini knew Cole was home. But being fearful of subsequent explosions, he decided against trying to enter the home and instead called 911.

Upon arriving, firefighters found the home consumed by fire and smoke. An initial search for people came up empty, McElligott said.

A short while later, firefighters found Cole in the northeast corner of the yard.

His dog, Jingles, was taken to Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa.

The dog has pieces of metal embedded in its skin and sustained severe burns, smoke inhalation and swelling of the brain, said Rick Chaboudy, executive director of the Suncoast Animal League.

Late in the afternoon, investigators still were sifting through the rubble in Cole's back yard. Perhac could still smell charred wood from inside her house.

"It's very hard to believe," Perhac said. "He's a very quiet guy. This is not anything you'd expect."

Times photographer Douglas Clifford contributed to this report. Keith Niebuhr can be reached at (727) 445-4156 or kniebuhr@sptimes.com.

Fiery explosion destroys Dunedin home; man and his dog injured 02/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 1:10pm]

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