Spontaneous Human Combustion
Spontaneous Human Combustion is the ability of the human body to blister or smoke or otherwise ignite in the absence of an external identifiable known source of ignition. In classic spontaneous human combustion the body burns itself more completely than can normally be achieved at a crematorium. The fires are internal in origin.
Larry Arnold has written a book titled, "Ablaze: The Mysterious Fires of Spontaneous Human Combustion" and heads a group called, ParaScience International. In 22 years he has documented over 400 cases that span the past hundred years. There is no known reason for this phenomenon.
Human beings suddenly burst into flames for no discernible reason. The burning is never spontaneous. There is always an ignition source present in the room nearby the victim. The body is normally more severely burned than one that has been caught in a normal fire. The burns are not distributed evenly over the body; the extremities are usually untouched by fire, whereas the torso usually suffers severe burning. In many cases the torso is completely destroyed, the bones being reduced completely to ash.
In 80% of cases the victims are female. A large proportion of victims were also overweight or alcoholics. Furthermore, death usually occurred after the victim had been drinking.
The combustion is localized to the body. Almost no fire damage is done to other objects in the vicinity of the body. Often the victims clothes are left untouched by the fire. The floor around the deceased is often covered with a viscous, foul smelling, oily yellow liquid.
All cases occur inside. The victim is was always alone for a long period of time. It is always fatal. Witnesses who were nearby (eg in adjacent rooms) never heard any sounds, such as cries of pain or calls for assistance.
Over the past 300 years, there have been more than 200 reports of persons burning to a crisp for no apparent reason. The victims are discovered as piles of ashes and oily residue, completely consumed except for an occasional unburnt arm or leg.
Although temperatures of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit are normally required to char a body so thoroughly (crematoria, which usually operate in the neighborhood of 2,000 degrees, leave bone fragments which must be ground up by hand), frequently little or nothing around the victim is damaged, except perhaps the exact spot where the deceased ignited.
SHC victims have burnt up in bed without the sheets catching fire, clothing worn is often barely singed, and flammable materials only inches away remain untouched.
Peter Jones, 63. who has survived this experience reports that there was not sensation of heat, or flame or anything. He just saw smoke. He felt no pain.
The first medical report of SHC appeared in Acta Medica & Philosophica Hafniensia in 1673. A hard-drinking Parisian was found reduced to ashes in his straw bed, leaving just his skull and finger bones. The straw matting was only lightly damaged.
On April 9, 1744, Grace Pett, 60, an alcoholic residing in Ipswich England, was found on the floor by her daughter like "a log of wood consumed by a fire, without apparent flame." Nearby clothing was undamaged.
On May 18, 1957, Anna Martin, 68, of West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was found incinerated, leaving only her shoes and a portion of her torso. The medical examiner estimated that temperatures must have reached 1,700 to 2,000 degrees, yet newspapers two feet away were found intact.
On December 5, 1966, the ashes of Dr. J. Irving Bentley, 92, of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, were discovered by a meter reader. Dr. Bentley's body apparently ignited while he was in the bathroom and burned a 2-1/2-by-3-foot hole through the flooring, with only a portion of one leg remaining intact. Nearby paint was unscorched.
Perhaps the most famous case occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old widow, spontaneously combusted while sitting in her easy chair on July 1, 1951. The next morning, her next door neighbor tried the doorknob, found it hot to the touch and went for help. She returned to find Mrs. Reeser, or what was left of her, in a blackened circle four feet in diameter.
All that remained of the 175-pound woman and her chair was a few blackened seat springs, a section of her backbone, a shrunken skull the size of a baseball, and one foot encased in a black stain slipper just beyond the four-foot circle. Plus about 10 pounds of ashes.
The police report declared that Mrs. Reeser went up in smoke when her highly flammable rayon-acetate nightgown caught fire, perhaps because of a dropped cigarette. But one medical observer declared that the 3,000-degree heat required to destroy the body should have destroyed the apartment as well. In fact, damage was minimal--the ceiling and upper walls were covered with soot. No chemical accelerants, incidentally, were found.
No satisfactory explanation of SHC has ever been offered. Many SHC victims have been alcoholics, and at one time it was thought that alcohol or its derivatives in the body simply ignited. But experiments in the 19th century demonstrated that flesh impregnated with alcohol will not burn with the intense heat associated with SHC.
Other theories involve deposits of flammable body fat-- Many victims have been overweight, yet others have been skinny.
One school of thought blames phosphorous. One of the Teeming Millions explains: "SHC is thought to be the result of an error in phosphorous metabolism. As you may recall from your college biochemistry, living creatures store accessible energy in phospho-diester bonds. Under certain conditions, improperly manufactured polyphosphorous compounds in all the body cells can undergo an autocatalytic reaction. Water will not stop SHC. To get an idea of what's happening, have a chemist drop polyphosphoric acid in water."
Research Topics - Spontaneous Combustion
This page was last updated on: 1/15/2011
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