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Blast, fire destroy building

A Brooksville man was trying to start a weed trimmer in his carriage house when it exploded. A neighbor is injured.

By WILL VAN SANT
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 30, 2003


BROOKSVILLE -- A 47-year-old Brooksville man caused an explosion and fire that destroyed a carriage house next to his Howell Avenue home early Saturday when he tried to start a gasoline powered weed trimmer.

Though no injuries resulted directly from the blaze, a neighbor, whom authorities identified as Francis Larson, 58, apparently slipped and fell as she fled the scene and struck her head.

Larson was taken by helicopter to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Medical personnel said her condition is not life threatening and she is expected to recover.

"She was so pale, it scared me to death," said Robert Pruitt, the man who inadvertently caused the fire.

According to Pruitt, who does landscaping work, he was in the carriage house, pouring gasoline into the weed trimmer. He primed it and pulled the starter cord.

"It just blew up right in my hand," he said.

Fire officials say the explosion, which occurred about 10:30 a.m., apparently ignited vapors from propane tanks and paint cans being stored in the carriage house, which the family used as a garage.

"We were in the house and I was taking a shower," said Pruitt's wife, Sherri, 38. "My husband came in and said call the fire department. There's smoke coming out of the garage."

As firefighters soaked the gutted structure, which Pruitt said was built in 1920, the family, including daughter Alexandra, 6, their dog Cody, 7, and skunk, Jack, gathered on the sidewalk.

Pruitt repeatedly thanked neighbors and passers-by who helped shepherd his family out of harm's way and offered assistance to the injured Larson.

"Everybody was so nice and helping," he said. "Thank you, thank you."

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansant@sptimes.com .

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