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Spontaneous Human Combustion

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Author Topic: Spontaneous Human Combustion  (Read 480 times)

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« on: July 31, 2009, 10:53:21 am »

Imagine being at home alone, watching a movie on TV while curled up on your couch in your most comfortable clothes.  You're not smoking nor burning candles or incense.  But, you smell and then see smoke... How did your shirt catch on fire?  You move to put it out, but suddenly your entire arm is burning with an eerie bluish flame, and then in seconds, you know no more... the next day, the mailman comes to deliver a package that won't fit in your mailbox, and he notices a greasy brownish film on the living room window.  He calls emergency services, and when they enter the house they find a large hole burned to ashes on your couch, that brownish film on the walls, and instead of your body, they find only your left forearm with the hand still holding the half full Pepsi can...

There are many such cases documented through the years.  However, Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) remains a largely unexplained phenomenon.  There are several theories as to the causes, from a dropped cigarette causing an intense enough flame to reduce a body and the immediate area around it to ash, to a type of electrical short circuit in the body igniting the body's fat and incinerating it.  These theories do not explain why it is only the body and the bed it lay on, etc., that burns.  A heat that powerful should consume the entire room, and even the entire building.  How is it then that body parts are left intact, curtains aren't reduced to ashes, even though a nearby object such as a television may have melted from the searing heat?

People aren't always alone when they're consumed by the inner flame, either.  Most of us have heard the story of the young woman dancing with her boyfriend at a school dance, bursting into flame and disintegrating before many horrified onlookers.  On Unsolved Mysteries a short time ago, I caught part of a story where a couple was having coffee and breakfast in their home, when the wife suddenly saw smoke pouring from the back of her sweater.  With her husband's help, she removed it and the shirt beneath to end up standing only in her bra in her kitchen, with a reddened area on her shoulder blades the only evidence that something had been burning.  The shirt and sweater apparently were unharmed in any way.  The only conclusion one can draw is that the smoke was coming from the woman's body.   

Experiments have been done with pig cadavers to duplicate a SHC occurrence, with little success.  While body fat is an excellent fuel for fire, the pig corpses tended to smolder more than burn, and none of them came close to the higher temperatures needed to reduce the body to ashes in a few moments.  Cremation experts claim that in order to reduce something as large as a human body to ash, it takes thousands of degrees and several hours to do the job, and even then there are pieces of bone, etc., left behind.  The entire house would be cremated along with the body if one tried this outside of the crematorium.  Of course, it could be that it could only be duplicated in a LIVING body...

Oxygen depletion in the room and building would, of course, affect the spread of the flames and tend to confine them to a small area.  While the heat would be intense enough to melt nearby objects, things like paper would be able to remain intact due to the lack of oxygen to feed the flames.  In other words, things would tend to smolder unless oxygen was provided.   The brownish greasy film would be caused by the smoke from the burning body fat and clothing.  And, in most of the cases found, the victims had been alone for hours prior to discovery--they may have simply burned down to ash slowly.  In some cases, possible ignition sources tend to be ignored in the drama of the unusual death.  Aunt Millie may have smoked like a chimney in life, but that is conveniently forgotten.

The above explanations do not explain that poor woman in her kitchen with smoke pouring from her back, though... there's probably not enough theories in the world to set her mind at ease...

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