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Victim doesn't recall his Dunedin home exploding into a fireball

DUNEDIN — Duane A. Cole told his wife that he remembers being at home with his dog one minute and waking up at Tampa General Hospital the next.

He doesn't recall anything of the blast and fire that ravaged his Dunedin home Wednesday, his wife, Kelley M. Cole, told the St. Petersburg Times.

Investigators from the state Fire Marshal and Pinellas County Sheriff's offices spent Thursday trying to determine the cause of the explosion and blaze. The investigation could take days. They couldn't even say Thursday whether it was accidental or intentional.

Kelley said she thinks her husband will be fine, but is not sure when he will be discharged from the hospital.

The cause of the blast is a mystery to her.

"I don't know what's going on," she said. "I'm just as much in the dark about this" as everyone else.

According to authorities, Duane and his dog, Jingles, were the only ones home Wednesday morning when the explosion tore through the house at 1524 Michigan Blvd. The home is a 1,280-square-foot unit worth $163,000, property records state.

Firefighters found Duane lying semiconscious in the back yard. They found the dog critically wounded under debris.

Duane, a construction supervisor, had been out of work recently because of the bad economy, said Kelley, 41.

She and Duane married in 2004, she said, and have been separated for several months.

Though Kelley and her children now live at a different address, they stay in touch with Duane, she said. In fact, she and the children watched the Super Bowl at his house. That was the last time they were there. Everything at the house seemed fine, she said.

Fire officials said there were no natural gas lines or underground propane tanks at the house. Kelley said a propane grill was kept on the back deck.

Two fire officials, who have no direct knowledge of the investigation, agreed to talk about what could cause an explosion like the one that destroyed Cole's home.

These types of explosions usually start when vapors from a flammable liquid or gas build up in an enclosed space, though if people are home they usually smell it, said Bill Wade, spokesman for Tampa Fire Rescue.

He's seen cases where people have smelled the gas but accidentally started the fire, including a case in which a man lit his mobile home on fire when he tried to find the source of a gas leak by flipping on a lighter.

In another case, an apartment infested with roaches exploded because the fumes from a large number of petroleum-based bug bombs filled the space, he said.

Gary Ludwig, deputy fire chief of the Memphis Fire Department, said gas leaks, liquid gasoline or existing fires could cause such an explosion.

When an enclosed space is filled with gas, a small electric current — such as a light turning on or even a telephone ringing — can ignite the fumes, Ludwig said. A small fire could cause an explosion if it hits an accelerant like gasoline stored in a garage.

He said houses that explode from natural gas or fumes from methamphetamine labs usually are leveled, meaning the walls and roof are knocked down.

After he reviewed photos of the damaged home, he said this explosion didn't appear to level the house, but lit a fire that caused much of the damage.

Researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Stephanie Garry contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157. Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kniebuhr@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4156.

Victim doesn't recall his Dunedin home exploding into a fireball 02/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009 11:01am]
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