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Medical [News] Frank Baker survives ''spontaneous combustion''

  1. Feb 9, 2014 #1

    Frank Baker faced death while earning two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, but the scariest moment of his life came in June 1995.

    Baker was in his home in Vermont, when he suddenly burst into flames, an experience he discusses for the first time on "The Unexplained Files," airing Oct. 2 on the Science Channel.

    "We were getting ready for fishing and sitting on the couch," Baker said on the episode. "Everything was great. [Friend] Pete [Willey] was sitting next to me [and] we were having a helluva time."

    That is, until things started heating up -- literally -- when flames appeared on Baker's body.

    "It was the damndest thing I've ever seen," Willey remembered. "Frank was freaking out and making me freak out."

    Baker started panicking and tried everything to stop his body from being burned.

    "I had no idea what was taking place on my body -- none," he said.

    Baker and Willey somehow put out the flames and got to a doctor. But the diagnosis was as shocking as the sudden flames that engulfed his body.

    "The doctor called, and said, 'Frank, this burned from the inside out,'" Baker said.

    Frank Baker discussed his alleged case on Oct. 2, on the Unexplained Files on the Science Channel. No skeptical input whatsoever is offered in the news source (which did irk me) so I'm wondering what you guys think.

    He was then diagnosed with partial spontaneous combustion. He says on his Facebook he wants donations because he's having testing done and for finding a cure. He recently sold his home so there must be truth to this story because he seems really desperate he says this has happened to him 3 times so far and that there may not be a fourth.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 10, 2014 #2


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    There are several alternative explanations. See the following link.


    Note that the news article you linked goes into absolutely no details. Were they drinking at the time? Smoking? Near a heat source?

    Also, how would the doctor know whether someone burned from the inside out? I doubt burning from the inside is very common, so I can't imagine the average doctor having any idea on the specifics of the fire that causes a burn.
  4. Feb 10, 2014 #3
    CT scans existed at the time, and perhaps MRI scans too. A biopsy of his skin would also have judged if there was more damage in the inner layers than the outer layers.
  5. Feb 10, 2014 #4


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  6. Feb 10, 2014 #5
    I'm wondering.. people have died from drinking very high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (>40%) as well as pure hydrogen cyanide which is another very reactive chemical, but no fire or heating is described in these cases and I'm wondering why not because these chemicals are very reactive and unstable, especially in a warm place where hc polymerizes (such as the body)

    The reactions are exothermic
    But not even their nostrils or mouth was described as having fire or heat damage, the places that were hit with the highest concentration.

    One of the most popular theories for how SHC happens is a buildup of reactive chemicals that suddenly get made and released
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2014
  7. Feb 10, 2014 #6


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    More damage to the inner layers doesn't necessarily mean that the fire burned from the inside out. It doesn't make any sense anyways. If it started on the inside of his skin then he would have noticed severe pain before any flames ever showed. This contradicts his statement that he just "burst into flames".

    Because there is little to no free oxygen inside your body and therefore normal combustion cannot occur. This is in addition to the large amount of water that would also inhibit any combustion.

    Which makes sense if the fire starts on the outside of their body and uses body fat as a source of fuel. As the wiki article states, fire spreads much more easily upward than sideways. This, along with the relative lack of body fat in the neck and head compared with the torso, could lead to the head surviving relatively intact.

    I'd believe this, but only as a buildup on the outside of the body, not the inside.
  8. Feb 10, 2014 #7
    But we're not talking about flames inside the body, but merely an intense burst of heat that can set the skin or clothing alight. The insides wouldn't catch fire but the heat from the reactions would cause the surface to get very hot.

    Over-abundances do occur so I'm wondering if this could happen not locally but generally.

    And I'm not trying to prove anything SHC just freaks me out and the more I read these news articles that I can't avoid the more convinced I am its real but I don't want that

    Anyway the chemicals made from these substrates are reactive, so assuming that there was a very high conc. of substrate + equally high conc. of the enzyme that converts it into whatever reactive chemical... would these enzymes be destroyed before the concentration of this reactive metabolite could result in much heat production?

    Not sure if reactive chemicals damage enzymes but it's worth an ask.
  9. Feb 10, 2014 #8


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    I know of no highly reactive substances that would build up in the body without the person knowing. The amount you would need to ingest or inhale is so high that you would experience the toxic effects well before anything could happen. I simply see no way for SHC to occur in this manner. The explanations provided by wiki are FAR more likely. Rest assured that you will not somehow spontaneously combust. You'll probably accidentally light yourself on fire instead.
  10. Feb 10, 2014 #9


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    News articles have one primary job: to attract eyeballs for advertisers. Whether or not the information they share with you is accurate is often as close to the woeful regulations on the industry as possible. SHC whilst widely reported has never been shown to be a real thing. Most times the answer is that the person died whilst smoking and the cigarette caused them to burn (the hypothesis goes that in obese individuals subcutaneous fat will burn like a wick over a long period).

    As per the PF rules personal theories are not allowed. This site is a teaching resource for students, as such all discussion must only include links to peer reviewed literature. Please ensure that the topic sticks to this rule or the thread will be locked.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2014
  11. Feb 10, 2014 #10


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    Just for fun, I had a look at Google Scholar. There appear to be a number of papers presented mostly in forensic science journals about the issue.
    Edit:Google scholar link had too many unacceptable sources and unrelated topics.

    Here are a couple I thought interesting:

    They basically suggest that death occured first, followed by ignition from a local heat source and they talk about the potential of body fat being the fuel as discussed in the Wikipedia page.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 10, 2014
  12. Feb 10, 2014 #11


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    That suggests these doctors suffered from condition known as SBD*.


    Fire needs fuel, oxidizer, and ignition. Ignition requires relatively high temperatures, and we won't get that hot, as we don't get hotter than 100 deg C - unless water boils out from the body. There is a reason why damp materials don't catch fire. We are 70% water, or something like that.

    *SBD - spontaneous brain damage, unconfirmed, but much more prevalent than SHC.
  13. Feb 10, 2014 #12
    What made you come to that conclusion?

    Skin isn't damp, and it's mostly fat and protein which are flammable. I never said SHC is from actual flames coming from inside the body. I said that SHC is supposedly heat whose source is internal which leads up to the combustion of the surface which is exposed to oxygen and is more suited to oxidation.
  14. Feb 10, 2014 #13


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    Because the idea of a doctor diagnosing something that doesn't exist indicates faulty reporting, faulty diagnosing or a faulty brain :rolleyes:

    Skin is very damp. Every cell is full of water and surrounded by capillaries carrying fluids. Adipose cells have a very high concentration of fat but they are only found in certain tissues in the body.

    GaiaGirl95 there doesn't seem any point continuing this thread because you are unwilling to listen to anything anyone is telling you. There is not enough heat in a human to lead to lead to autoignition of any biological tissue and there certainly isn't enough fuel and oxidiser (even on the skin) to make a human burst into flame when tissue is burned. If this was not the case then every time someone burnt their finger on a stove they would combust entirely.

    I suggest you stop worrying about something there is no evidence for and stop reading unverified anecdotes from questionable news agencies.
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