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Spontaneous Human Combutstion

  1. Dec 2, 2003 #1
    I'm searched for this on the forum and came up with no real results... I'm looking for open opinions or experience either in support or against the matter of Spontaneous Combustion!

    I believe it is possible, but as just another rarity within our materialistic world. Could it be that we have so many chemicals within our bodies that a chaotic chain reaction could occur from an extreme inbalance!? Would it be psychological in nature!? Or would it involve some unpercievable contact with anti-matter!? I'd like to know of multiple conceivable causes for such a rare event.[?]
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2003 #2
    spontaneous combustion is known to happen...spontaneous human combustion is a different matter entirely. Spontaneous combustion of gases happens due to high pressure and heat etc. Spontaneous human combustion...I personally don't know if i believe it exists or not. There are cases that certainly support it given the "facts" taht were told, but then again, given all the circumstances, someone could explain it away as nothing more than accidental fire.

  4. Dec 2, 2003 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    I have seen one demonstration in which pig fat is wrapped up inside of a cloth and burned. The fat can burn with relatively minor damage to the cloth. This is suggested as one explanation for the SHC accounts; a wicking effect much like an inside out candle. Personally, I find this explanation to be inconsistent with the reports. I think it is more likely that SHC results from some unusual chemistry. The wicking effect could be a secondary result effect that explains the intact clothing, but I don't see this as a way to explain the strange fact that someone can burn alive, apparently in short order and with extreme efficiency, inside of their cloths. Cremation requires tremendous heat for a sustained period.

    There is one interesting story where allegedly [I have never checked on this story] in front of a full church, the priest began to spontaneously ignite in various places; mostly on his arms. He was able to put the fires out in front of horrified onlookers. Considering the circumstances, imagine the reaction!
  5. Dec 2, 2003 #4
    There are stacks of evidence in many many cases showing highly abnormal burning, like someone burning to ashes in 15 minutes, or fire spewing from someone's mouth as he was talking with his brotehr and father at home etc.

    However, the only actual support of SHC, besides debunking it's attacks, is this:
    Note: I didn't come to these conclusions on my own, this is merely something presented to me, I make no claims that any of this is right.

    -Phosphorus and molecules containing it are commonly found in food.
    -There are some digestive acids (I think in the stomach) which can digest phosphorus down to individual atoms.
    -Some Diphosphate atoms form from free floating phosphorus
    -When oxygen gas and diphosphate come in contact with each other they can combust.
    -If o2 and diphosphate come in contact with each other in the presence of methane gas or some other gases which are combustible in your body, you ignite. This explains why often it's only the torso and head which are burnt and why in eye witness accounts flames come from the mouth.
  6. Dec 2, 2003 #5
    Oh, humans can combust. Just not spontaneously. Trust me.
  7. Dec 2, 2003 #6
    What a compelling argument...
  8. Dec 2, 2003 #7
    It seems that everyone so far is roughly on the same page as I am on this...

    Personally, for years I've tried not to contemplate on this extremely, just in case I caused it on myself...lol... If I could go this way, I'd certainly wish for a crowd. Perhaps while I was performing a concert. Then I would not only know for sure, but I could offer a substantial piece of evidence for everyone else to argue about for years or possibly millenia. :wink:
  9. Dec 2, 2003 #8
    I've seen several specials of TV about this and a couple gave such a convincing argument for the wick effect that I now subscribe to this explanation.

    The wick effect basically depends on there being enough clothing or apolstery, or material of some kind around the body to act as a wick for the body fat as it melts from some conventionally started fire.

    In many cases they assume the person starts their clothing on fire accidently, which causes heart attacks from alarm in the elderly, or which causes people to fall and knock themselves unconscious in other cases.

    The flame is never very large - in the pig experiment it never got larger than 16 inches tall - not enough to get the ceiling over the body to burn.

    It actually takes many hours for the body to burn away. They discovered that in cremation which uses high temperatures for a short time, there is alot of bone that doesn't burn. In the wick effect a much lower temperature for a much longer time will actually end up burning the bone. The wick effect will leave hands and feet if they are not in contact with a fatty area of the body. If I recall correctly the wick effect takes about 12 hours minimum.

    One show talked about two murder cases that were thought to be spontaneous human combustion. In fact the person had been killed otherwise and the murderer had set the body on fire assuming a much larger "cover" fire would result. In both these cases they used a very small amount of accelerant, directly on the body, and the wick effect took over.
  10. Dec 4, 2003 #9
    Please produce evidence, or links to said evidence.

    Only elemental white phosphorus burns spontaneously, certainly phosphates, such as in the body and food, cannot burn - they are already oxides. Elemental phosphorus is highly toxic, it won't normally be found in food.

    Phosphorus burns at a very low temp, it's not going to consume a body, volitilize the ~70% of water, and burn the flesh down to the bone.

    Sorry, but this is crap. Phosphates, exposed to acids, form phophoric acid.

    Diphosphate? Various phosphorus oxides exist, but I've never heard of Diphosphate (as an independant molecule/chemical). As a radical, such as calcium diphosphate or magnesium diphosphate, but these not flammable.

    Aside from the fact that diphosphate doesn't exist - the fact it's called diphosphate indicates it's an oxide - i.e. already burned. While some incomplete oxides can burn, the will produce much less energy than a completely unburned fuel.

    I realize you have a poor grasp of chemistry, so I will try to be kind. This is yet more pasture fertilizer. First, methane forms in the gut. O2 doesn't exist in the gut. Second, they would explode, but not burn much, assuming they did combine in the correct explosive limits of methane and oxygen and met with an ignition source.

    Burning a body takes a lot of energy because it has to drive all that moisture off. The number of BTU's expended in a cremation is quite large.

    The slow combustion, with death occurring from smoke inhalation and the body allowed to burn slowly, in a moderately enclosed environment, using the bodies fat and the clothes as a wick is the most logical and most straightforward explanation of the confirmed cases of human combustion of unknown origin.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2003
  11. Dec 4, 2003 #10
    Like I said, that's only what I've heard...
  12. Dec 6, 2003 #11
    The idea that the body can burn like a candle isn't so far fetched at all. In a way, a body is like a candle-inside out. With a candle the wick is on the inside, and the fat on the outside. As the wick burns the candle becomes molten and the liquid is drawn onto the wick and burns. With a body, which consists of a large amount of fat, the fat melts and is drawn onto the clothing which acts as a wick, and then continues to burn.

    Most significantly, there are almost always furnishings, bedding, or carpets involved. Such materials would not only provide a continuous source of fuel but also promote a slow, smoldering fire and a layer of insulation around any fire once ignited. With this combination of features, the investigator can appreciate the basics-fuel, in the form of clothing or bedding as first ignition, and then furnishings as well as the body to feed later stages; an ignition source-smoking materials or heating appliances; and finally, the dynamics of heat, fuel, and ventilation to promote a slow, steady fire which may generate little open flame and insufficient radiant heat to encourage fire growth. In some circumstances the fat rendered from a burning body can act in the same manner as the fuel in an oil lamp or candle. If the body is positioned so that oils rendered from it can drip or drain onto an ignition source, it will continue to fuel the flames. This effect is enhanced if there are combustible fuels-carpet padding, bedding, upholstery stuffing-that can absorb the oils and act as a wick.

    In a crematorium you need high temperatures-around 1,300° C, or even higher-to reduce the body to ash in a relatively short period of time. But it's a misconception to think you need those temperatures within a living room to reduce a body to ash in this way. You can produce local, high temperatures, by means of the wick effect and a combination of smouldering and flaming to reduce even bones to ash. At relatively low temperatures of 500 ° C-and if given enough time-the bone will transform into something approaching a powder in composition.
  13. Dec 19, 2003 #12
    Very good analysis.

    Make sure you properly source your information. Your information came from quotes found on CSICOP.org - Not So Spontaneous Human Combustion.

    Other helpful information from the same CSICOP article include this bit:

    Last edited: Dec 19, 2003
  14. Dec 20, 2003 #13


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    I saw those same reports, and found them rather disturbing. In each of the cases I heard about, the investigating officer had never heard of SHC. If he had, he might have thought that this was what he was seeing, and missed vital clues that would have lead to the capture of the murderer or murderers.

    Makes me wonder how many of the SHC cases currently on the books are actually murders that have not been solved and are not even being properly investigated because we think the cause of death has already been determined.
  15. Mar 6, 2004 #14
    SHC - some theories

    I think this is an extremely interesting phenomenon. The wicking effect exhibited by the pig wrapped with cloth i feel is not substantial to disprove SHC. the documentary on BBC showed more than eight alleged SHC cases. In each of the cases, the legs were not burnt to the degree that the upper body was. Could it be because of some chemical reaction happening in our stomach? The cases also showed that there were slits in the stomach and abdomen region of the victims. This could be the reason.
    Also, a huge percentage of chemical reaction in the body take place in the liver. Could it be that there were some unusual reaction in the liver at the time this phenomenon took shape? I have not been able to investigate into this at all but i think these theories are quite interesting and maybe possible. What do you think mentors?
  16. Mar 8, 2004 #15
    I'm not a mentor, but here's my take on it:

    The lower legs and hands do not have enough fat to sustain the wick effect. The hands sometimes burn away in cases where they are close enough to the person's body to be dowsed in the fat melting from the trunk. The feet might burn if things were arranged such that fat ran down to them, but there always seems to be feet left. The head burns because the brain is incredibly oily.

    I don't understand the cases you are talking about where slits are found in the stomach. I never saw any case mentioned where there was any of the trunk left at all.

    The wick effect accounts for the results of every case I've heard of. It is a violation of Occam's Razor to propose there is another cause as well, unless you have found a case that can't possibly have been caused by the wick effect.

  17. Mar 8, 2004 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Occams Razor is a guideline, not a law. Also, it doesn't even apply to unproven, suggested explanations.

    edit: spelling
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2004
  18. Mar 8, 2004 #17
    The Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition defines it as a "rule."
    The wick effect was proven with the pig and with the two murders.
  19. Mar 8, 2004 #18

    Ivan Seeking

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    Science books don't. The principle of parsimony is the aspect of Occam that applies here, and this assumes an already complete and well understood explanation. One example of a solution to one scenario does not settle anything. Also, parsimony does not exclude better explanations.

    This wicking explanation does not even begin to account for the full range of reports. Sometimes very little time is involved. I agree that this may account for many reports, but only those that allow for the luxury of time.
  20. Mar 8, 2004 #19
    No, I don't think the "complete and well understood explanation" has anything to do with Occam's Razor. Also, this site:

    Occam's Razor

    (Which describes it both as a principle and a "guidline", which should make you happy) does not present the "principle of parsimony" as an "aspect" of Occam's Razor, but as an alternate name for it.

    If you regard it as a "guideline" in the sense that you can use it or not, depending on your mood that day, I don't think you understand the point of it, which is to prevent the generation of a flood of competing theories.

    It does indeed. If we know for certain there is a proven way a thing can occur, then Occam's Razor says we shouldn't start looking for other ways it might occur with no reason.
    The point is to look for answers in terms of known quantities first, before suggesting a solution that involves unknowns.
    Oh it begins, it begins.
    In very few cases, and the time between last seen and found all burned up is unprovable. Given the two murders that looked like spontaneous human combustion I find the short term reports very suspicious.
    The only report I have heard that couldn't possibly be accounted for by the wick effect was that of the girl whose dress apparently caught spontaneously on fire at her prom in front of many witnesses. She tore it off right then and there, but was burned some anyway and went to the hospital. Everyone agreed that she was nowhere near anything that could have set the dress on fire. This is mysterious, but it is still only "spontaneous garment combustion".
  21. Sep 5, 2004 #20
    Ive been studying SPH for many years and after decising many different theories, believing it was impossible and complaining loudly, much to the annoyance of my close family, im beginning to decide the wick effect really does work. In all cases ive heard of, there has been a source of ignition an sustainstion. If people are put out, the damage is great enough to kill them anyway. Even if they do not stay alight, most are dead already. I think. :cry:
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