DUNEDIN — His hands badly scarred and his voice cracking, Duane Cole, the man found semiconscious in his back yard after a Feb. 11 home explosion, stood in front of the charred remains Tuesday and said he recalls nothing of how the blast happened.
Making his first public appearance since the explosion, Cole thanked the firefighters who rescued him, the community for its support and the veterinarians who tried to save his beloved American Eskimo dog, Jingles.
Then he attempted to make sense of all that had happened.
"The last couple weeks have been the most difficult of my life," Cole said, fighting back tears.
One day earlier, Sam Venzeio, a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal's Office, said a propane tank in a bedroom at the house at 1524 Michigan Blvd. caused the explosion, heard blocks away.
Venzeio said the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was focused on determining why Cole, 46, kept propane in his room.
On Tuesday, Cole couldn't answer that.
Cole said he had "no idea" why the propane was there and couldn't remember anything leading up to the explosion.
Cole's mother, June MacMillan, said she was in her son's house one week before the accident and didn't see a propane tank anywhere.
Asked if she suspected foul play, MacMillan paused before answering, "I don't know."
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said detectives have not deemed the blast suspicious.
Cole has been staying at his mother's Largo home since the explosion. Two of his sisters flew in from Colorado and will stay until Friday.
The three of them, along with Cole's brother, have been taking care of him.
Although he appears to be walking well, Cole said he has been suffering severe headaches and limited movement of his jaw. The marks on both hands stretch up each arm, he said. At times Tuesday, his hand shook badly.
A construction worker who is between jobs, Cole moved into the home in 2001. Since being separated last year, he had been living there with Jingles, who died Saturday.
A public memorial service for Jingles is scheduled for Thursday at the Curlew Hills Memory Gardens Pet Cemetery at 3 p.m.
"I lost my companion," Cole said. "I lost my buddy. I won't forget him."
Once fully recovered, Cole hopes to someday move back into his home.
"I have every intention to rebuild," he said.
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4156.