Category Archives: Spontaneous Human Combustion

Spontaneous Human Combustion: Facts & Theories

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via Live Science

For well over a century, some have claimed that people can suddenly and inexplicably explode into a ball of fire. The phenomenon is called spontaneous human combustion (SHC), and it has been described in many popular books on mysteries and the unexplained.
spontaneous human combustionThough the term “spontaneous human combustion” is of fairly recent vintage, it was a rare-but-real concern to many in the 1800s. In fact, there are nearly a dozen references to people bursting into flames in pre-1900 fiction. The most famous example is Charles Dickens’s 1853 novel “Bleak House,” in which a character explodes into fire, though the phenomenon can also be found in the works of Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Washington Irving and others. In modern times, SHC has appeared in movies and on television shows, including “The X-Files,” and it’s even, sort of, the super-power of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in “Fantastic Four” comic books.

Spontaneous combustion theories

Fires do not typically start on their own. When investigators search for the cause of forest fires, they don’t assume that the flame ignited itself. Rather, they usually suspect that a careless camper or a lightning strike caused it. However, many things can self-ignite without exposure to flames, under the right circumstances, including coal dust, piles of compost and used oily rags.
spontaneous human combustion_300pxBut it’s a whole different matter to claim that people can suddenly burst into flames for no apparent reason. There is no doubt that bodies can burn; crematoriums routinely reduce the human body to ashes in the course of a few hours. The mystery of SHC lies in the supposedly strange circumstances under which victims burst into flames. Typically, the story goes, there is no obvious source of ignition, no open fires nearby that might set the person aflame. Furthermore, the victims are killed, and not, for example, only partly burned on one arm or a leg; SHC is fatal. Some claim that burning often seems to begin in the chest or stomach area, leaving the grisly remains of legs and hands intact. Others claim that the furniture and floors under and surrounding the victims (including even their clothing) remain mysteriously unburned.

A closer look

spontaneous human combustion 854_250pxSome of these popular claims are simply wrong. For example, there are many photographs of supposed SHC victims that clearly show extensive burning and damage to the clothing and surroundings of the burned person. It’s also important to understand a bit of fire forensics: many fires are self-limiting; that is, they put themselves out naturally because they run out of fuel. Though the public often sees uncontrolled fires completely engulfing and burning down entire rooms and buildings, fires are unpredictable. It is quite possible, for example, for only a rug, bed, or sofa to catch fire without spreading to the rest of the room. Because fires normally burn upward instead of outward, there is nothing paranormal or strange about finding a victim in one part of a room burned to death while the rest of the room has little more than smoke damage.
What about the source of ignition?

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How Spontaneous Human Combustion Works

by via HowStuffWorks

spontaneous human combustion 1123bIn December 1966, the body of 92-year-old Dr. J. Irvin­g Bentley was discovered in his Pennsylvania home by a meter reader. Actually, only part of Dr. Bentley’s leg and slippered foot were found. The rest of his body had been burned to ashes. A hole in the bathroom floor was the only evidence of the fire that had killed him; the rest of the house remained perfectly intact.

­How could a man catch fire — with no apparent source of a spark or flame — and then burn so completely without igniting anything around him? Dr. Bentley’s case and several hundred others like it have been labeled “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). Although he and other victims of the phenomenon burned almost completely, their surroundings, and even sometimes their clothes, remained virtually untouched.

Can humans spontaneously burst into flames? A lot of people think spontaneous human combustion is a real occurrence, but most scientists aren’t convinced.

In this article, we will look at the strange phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion, see what believers have to say about it and try to separate the scientific truth from the myths.

What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

spontaneous human combustion 707Spontaneous combustion occurs when an object — in the case of spontaneous human combustion, a person — bursts into flame from a chemical reaction within, apparently without being ignited by an external heat source.

The first known account of spontaneous human combustion came from the Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin in 1663, who described how a woman in Paris “went up in ashes and smoke” while she was sleeping. The straw mattress on which she slept was unmarred by the fire. In 1673, a Frenchman named Jonas Dupont published a collection of spontaneous combustion cases in his work “De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis.”

The hundreds of spontaneous human combustion accounts since that time have followed a similar pattern: The victim is almost completely consumed, usually inside his or her home. Coroners at the scene have sometimes noted a sweet, smoky smell in the room where the incident occurred.

spontaneous human combustion 1143_250pxWhat makes the charred bodies in the photos of spontaneous human combustion so peculiar is that the extremities often remain intact. Although the torso and head are charred beyond recognition, the hands, feet, and/or part of the legs may be unburned. Also, the room around the person shows little or no signs of a fire, aside from a greasy residue that is sometimes left on furniture and walls. In rare cases, the internal organs of a victim remain untouched while the outside of the body is charred.

Not all spontaneous human combustion victims simply burst into flames. Some develop strange burns on their body which have no obvious source, or emanate smoke from their body when no fire is present. And not every person who has caught fire has died — a small percentage of people have actually survived what has been called their spontaneous combustion.

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How Spontaneous Human Combustion Works

by via HowStuffWorks

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) describes reported cases of the burning of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without an apparent external source of ignition.

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) describes reported cases of the burning of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without an apparent external source of ignition.

In December 1966, the body of 92-year-old Dr. J. Irvin­g Bentley was discovered in his Pennsylvania home by a meter reader. Actually, only part of Dr. Bentley’s leg and slippered foot were found. The rest of his body had been burned to ashes. A hole in the bathroom floor was the only evidence of the fire that had killed him; the rest of the house remained perfectly intact.

­How could a man catch fire — with no apparent source of a spark or flame — and then burn so completely without igniting anything around him? Dr. Bentley’s case and several hundred others like it have been labeled “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC). Although he and other victims of the phenomenon burned almost completely, their surroundings, and even sometimes their clothes, remained virtually untouched.

Can humans spontaneously burst into flames? A lot of people think spontaneous human combustion is a real occurrence, but most scientists aren’t convinced.

In this article, we will look at the strange phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion, see what believers have to say about it and try to separate the scientific truth from the myths.

What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

spontaneous human combustion 1143_250px

Spontaneous combustion occurs when an object — in the case of spontaneous human combustion, a person — bursts into flame from a chemical reaction within, apparently without being ignited by an external heat source.

The first known account of spontaneous human combustion came from the Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin in 1663, who described how a woman in Paris “went up in ashes and smoke” while she was sleeping. The straw mattress on which she slept was unmarred by the fire. In 1673, a Frenchman named Jonas Dupont published a collection of spontaneous combustion cases in his work “De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis.”

The hundreds of spontaneous human combustion accounts since that time have followed a similar pattern: The victim is almost completely consumed, usually inside his or her home. Coroners at the scene have sometimes noted a sweet, smoky smell in the room where the incident occurred.

What makes the charred bodies in the photos of spontaneous human combustion so peculiar is that the extremities often remain intact. Although the torso and head are charred beyond recognition, the hands, feet, and/or part of the legs may be unburned. Also, the room around the person shows little or no signs of a fire, aside from a greasy residue that is sometimes left on furniture and walls. In rare cases, the internal organs of a victim remain untouched while the outside of the body is charred.

Not all spontaneous human combustion victims simply burst into flames. Some develop strange burns on their body which have no obvious source, or emanate smoke from their body when no fire is present. And not every person who has caught fire has died — a small percentage of people have actually survived what has been called their spontaneous combustion.

MORE – – –

Can Humans Spontaneously Combust? ‘Unexplained Files’ Investigates

By Tanya Lewis via LiveScience

spontaneous human combustion 856_250pxIn Galway, Ireland, 76-year-old Michael Faherty was found burned to death at his home in December 2010. The coroner concluded Faherty’s death was a case of spontaneous human combustion — a human being catching fire with no apparent cause.

Can human bodies simply burst into flame without any external source of ignition? Or could there be a more mundane — and scientific — explanation for the phenomenon? The season finale of the Science Channel’s “The Unexplained Files,” airing Wednesday (Oct. 2) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, investigates this and other mysteries.

More than 200 cases of spontaneous human combustion have been reported around the world. Most involve a victim burning almost completely — although their extremities may remain intact — while their surroundings remain unburned. [Spooky! The 10 Biggest Unexplained Phenomena]

spontaneous human combustion 1143_250pxIn 1986, the charred body of 58-year-old retired firefighter George Mott was found in his apartment outside Crown Point, N.Y. All that was left of him was a leg, a shrunken skull and pieces of his rib cage.

In February, 65-year-old Danny Vanzandt was found burned to death in his home in Sequoyah County, Okla., with no signs of burns on nearby furniture.  Spontaneous combustion was suspected, but a recent medical examiner’s report concluded Vanzandt died from a heart attack before a lit cigarette may have ignited his clothing.

And in 1985, Frank Baker, a Vietnam veteran living in Vermont, claims he spontaneously caught fire while sitting on his couch. Unlike others, Baker lived to tell the tale.

Most scientists dismiss the idea that humans can catch fire for no reason.

MORE . . .

SOLVED: Spontaneous Human Combustion Case

Medical Examiner Suggests Man Fell on Cigarette

by and via 5NEWSOnline.com

spontaneous human combustion 1122An eastern Oklahoma man’s death in February has been ruled the result of a heart attack, after the county sheriff initially said he believed spontaneous human combustion was to blame, according to the medical examiner’s report released Tuesday.

Danny Vanzandt, 65, of Muldrow, likely died of a heart attack after which his body was burned, possibly by a cigarette, the report states.

“The lack of soot within the airway and a negative carboxyhemoglobin level within the procured blood sample suggests death prior to the fire,” the medical examiner’s report states. “These findings are not consistent with someone breathing in smoke in the moments preceding death.

The autopsy report goes on to state that Vanzandt suffered from moderate to severe coronary artery disease.

“The findings of the examination are most consistent with the decendent dying (likely of this heart condition) and then being involved posthumously in the fire which consumed most of his body,” the report states.

Danny Vanzandt, 65, was found dead and burned at his home in Muldrow, Oklahoma.

Danny Vanzandt, 65, was found dead and burned at his home in Muldrow, Oklahoma.

Vanzandt’s body was almost completely consumed by fire before being found. His body weight at the medical examiner’s office came in at 40 pounds, according to the autopsy report.

Vanzandt’s charred body was found in his home on South 4700 Road on Feb. 18. At the time, Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart said the signs pointed to spontaneous human combustion as the cause of death, since no nearby items or furniture around the body were burned.

There was no other fire damage to the house and no signs of a struggle, Lockhart said.

“One plausible scenario involves the decedent collapsing and dying (likely due to the coronary artery disease noted at autopsy) on the kitchen floor at which time a lit cigarette ignites the decedent’s clothing and burns long enough to split the skin and release adipose tissue onto the clothing and floor and this adipose tissue then becomes the primary fuel source for the fire,” the report states.

The man’s manner of death was ruled as natural.

The idea of the Oklahoma man dying from rare spontaneous human combustion placed Vandzant’s death in national headlines. A researcher with ParaScience International visited Muldrow to study Vandzant’s death in March.

Click here to read more about the investigation.


[END]  via 5NEWSOnline.com

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