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BBC Reports Irish man died due to spontaneous combustion

  1. Sep 23, 2011 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2011 #2


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    I haven't seen a case of that in awhile.
  4. Sep 24, 2011 #3
    "Mr Green said he doubted explanations centred on divine intervention.

    "I think if the heavens were striking in cases of spontaneous combustion then there would be a lot more cases."


    There was a fire in the fireplace. Fires will throw out sparks, depending on the kind and condition of the wood being burned. There was no mention of what the deceased might have been wearing, but I don't think the famous "Wick Effect" can be ignored or ruled out.

    Plausible scenario: the guy spills aftershave (meaning: some kind of accelerant) on his clothes. Comes out in the living room and faints from the fumes, close to the fire. A spark jumps from the fire and ignites the accelerant. His clothes burn enough to start melting his body fat, which, in liquid form, starts "wicking" into his clothes. He burns in the manner of an oil lamp for hours.

    The whole thing requires an unusual, but not impossible, train of events, which also explains why it isn't very common.
  5. Sep 27, 2011 #4


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    I recall that various "human combustion" theories were tested using pig carcasses in England. I can't seem to find a record of it online right now, but they ultimately decided that it was usually an external cause fed by subcutaneous fat. The only requirement was that the external clothing be able to burn at hot enough temperature to cause the skin to expose the fat.

    I've also heard of the alternate explanation (a la South Park) that people spontaneously combust because they hold their farts in too long. So, you know... maybe...
  6. Sep 27, 2011 #5
    I saw one proof-of-principle attempt to get a pig carcass to burn away by the wick effect on TV a few years ago, and they couldn't get it to work.

    The Wikipedia, though, mentions the English attempts that apparently did work:

  7. Sep 27, 2011 #6


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    I saw one or two different demonstrations that worked. The CA attempt didn't work, but they said the mistakes was that the room wasn't closed and the draft fanned the flames.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2011
  8. Sep 28, 2011 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    From an anecdotal perspective, which is all we really have, one of the problems with the wick explanation, in some cases, seems to be the time required. How long does it take to completely burn a body this way? I don't believe the time required for this is consistent with all famous cases of reported SHC. In the most extreme cases, IIRC, based on the last know observation of the vitctim by witnesses, the consumption of the body was thought to have taken place in as little as 45 minutes.

    One of my favorite anecdotes is the story of the priest who kept breaking out in flames during his sermon. Now THAT will get the attention of the congregation!
  9. Oct 12, 2011 #8
    Yes, the information has been really anecdotal. One problem is how severely the body was burned. Our body is mostly water and much energy is required to vaporize it all. Therefore the body must remain rather intact if the cause is the wick effect.
  10. Oct 12, 2011 #9


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    I'm waiting for spontaneous fusion in a human body, leading to incineration of a town for no apparent reason.
  11. Oct 12, 2011 #10
    I believe one of the shows I saw set the minimum time at about 12 hours. This wasn't the time it takes for all the fat to burn but the minimum time it takes to turn bone to ash by oil flame. (In cremation, even though it's at higher temperatures, the bone is only partially reduced to ash, in the short time allotted. They actually grind the remaining bone to powder for inclusion with the ashes given to the recipient of the remains.) They estimated 12 hours of flame from 12 to 18 inches high (whatever amount of heat that might represent) needed to reduce the largest bones to ash.
    There are tales (both lore and fictional literature) and there are documented findings of burned up people. In the tales you have spontaneous human combustion happening, even, right before the eyes of witnesses:

    [PLAIN]http://anomalyinfo.com/articles/sa00096.php[/URL] [Broken]

    I don't know all the cases with documentation (firefighter and police reports) but I doubt if there are cases where the deceased was actually seen only 45 minutes before being found consumed by flames. If there was a such a case I would have to doubt the accuracy of the timeline before anything else. Most of these cases are older people who live alone and haven't been checked on in a few days.

    I did see one show where a middle aged couple was interviewed. Their story is that on two occasions the man woke up with "smoke" apparently rising up off his skin. Whatever it was, it did not escalate to flame, and eventually stopped by itself: the man and his wife were both in perfect shape for the interview. The assumption was made, of course, that this must be how SHC starts, but that is just an assumption. There's no telling what that incident was about.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  12. Oct 13, 2011 #11


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    Most people can feel a temperature differential of just a few degrees. I can't imagine that he was smoking from heat and was able to deal with the episode calmly. Even if the heat is internal it was hot enough to cause smoke. I'm going to guess this was less a case of spontaneous-human-combustion and more a case of telling-a-shared-dream-to-get-on-TV. It's easy... jut set aside your personal incredulity and recite what you honestly feel happened with no filters.
  13. Oct 13, 2011 #12
    Yeah. My best guess is that it was a case of Folie a Deux. The man woke up hallucinating the smoke, said something to his wife like "WTF? Why is there smoke coming off my skin?", and that entrained her into the hallucination.

    Alternatively, he might have hoaxed the incidents for his wife's benefit in a manner something like this:

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
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