Another Alleged Spontaneous Human Combustion Case

by via NeuroLogica Blog

spontaneous human combustion 1122News reports of a recent death by fire in Tulsa, OK read, “Sheriff: Oklahoma Man Died of Spontaneous Human Combustion,” and “Sheriff Rules Out Homicide, But Not Spontaneous Combustion After Autopsy.”

It’s actually not difficult to rule out spontaneous human combustion (SHC) – you can rule it out because SHC does not exist. The notion of SHC is that some process occurs in the body that causes it to heat to the point of spontaneous ignition, without an external ignition source. There simply is no known process by which this could occur.

This is not a trivial objection. While it is, of course, impossible to completely rule out the unknown, the laws of physics can make something so improbable that we can comfortably treat it as if it were impossible. At the very least the burden of proof should be extremely high – not so high that if the phenomenon were genuine we could not demonstrate it, but high enough to rule out other, even unlikely, causes.

spontaneous human combustion 1123_250pxThe lack of a possible mechanism has inspired some SHC proponents to hypothesize new elementary particles as an explanation. Larry Arnold, in his book, Ablaze, posits the existence of the pyroton to explain the energy source that leads to SHC. He is not a theoretical physicist and is therefore probably not aware that you can’t just make up new particles and insert them into the standard model just to explain your alleged phenomenon. This is a rather extreme example of special pleading.

It is also curious that there are no pre or partial SHC phenomena. No one has heated up to near combustion. We also don’t see alleged cases of SHC in animals – why isn’t there spontaneous pig combustion?

Plausibility aside – what does the empirical evidence say? Are there any compelling cases of SHC, as Sheriff Lockhart seems to believe, saying:

“I think there’s only about 200 cases worldwide, and I’m not saying this happened. I’m just saying that we haven’t ruled it out.”

The hallmark of the SHC claim is that ignition occurs without an external source. It is curious, then, that one fairly consistent feature of alleged SHC cases is the presence of an external ignition source. The typical profile of a victim is an elderly or infirmed individual, or someone taking sedating medication or a heavy alcohol drinker, who lives alone and is also a smoker. Being overweight also is a common feature.

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spontaneous human combustion

11 responses

  1. Back in the mid-70s I knew a police inspector who had been in the force for a good few years. He said that the worst part of the job was dealing with tramps (maybe hobos to you) who had been drinking meths (methylated spirits – a common drink amongst tramps back then, and possibly now for all I know).

    They tended to drink meths whilst sitting around a camp fire and probably smoked as well. Not surprisingly they often caught alight and partially burned up. Usually with an initial explosion to get the fire going.

    Accelerant + ignition source = No real mystery. No pyrotons involved (hardly surprisingly).

    There was a pig in a blanket experiment on British TV a few years ago. They were investigating the possibility of something called (as best I recall) the “human candle effect”. It gave results similar to the pictures of SHC. Again, no real mystery. Pigs do burn up if you set them alight – they just tend not to get drunk and set themselves alight.

    It did stop me smoking in bed after a few beers!

    1. Familiar with that. Post mortem forensic examination will reveal BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) permeation in remaining tissues. The hobo alcohol beverage fires are resultant from alcohol metabolized within lung tissues. Any alcohol metabolizes the same. The “XXX” Triple Twist 190 proof metabolizes exactly as any other drink but the high proof adds to its concentration. Maybe an ounce of 80 proof will yield 0.02 BAC, while an ounce of 190 proof will yield something around 0.08 BAC.
      What is presented with this topic deals with spontaneous non-accelerated combustion as opposed to any accelerant use or application.

  2. I had watched a program on television where it was shown that it happened in two documented cases but from what was explained, the personal hygiene has to be extremely bad, usually a filthy fabric chair permeated with extreme perspiration, and the room has to have bad ventilation and high heat.
    The way it was told, it made sense or the producer wanted it to sound like it made sense. Humans do put out methane. I know for a fact that gasoline vapors and kerosene vapors cause static electric. Also that gasoline and rock salt ignite. Maybe if the person was using rubbing alcohol to cool themselves off under poor conditions of living and hygiene..? Autotoxinateous? Ability to self ignite?

    1. I must admit i’m still about 20% open to this possibility. I remember seeing a documentary where they burned a pig corpse and once they got it burning it just fueled its own fire and kept going. I’ll wait for more evidence one way or the other.

      1. Corpses will support their own combustion. No question about that. It depends upon tallow or fat. When a person sweats profusely, as I do, there is oil in the sweat or if running or strenuous activity, conversion of body fat to oil to burn or metabolize for fuel energy. If a corpse is dehydrated, you have a good deal of combustion.

      2. I would give it between 1.5% to 2.0% chance of being capable.
        Proving something, is easier than giving benefit of the doubt, which is hard, but I try to keep an open mind out of curiosity and interest of the subject.
        When you hear of people saying people are like sheep, and others are like wolves, please understand that many flocks are protected by sheepdogs that willfully go into harms way, because they truly are concerned about the sheep that comprise the flock under the protective stewardship of the canine entrusted to protect and defend the sheep. It’s their sworn duty; It’s their Job.

    2. There is also the possibility that these people are being murdered, and that their being poison (or given a very powerful sedative) and their bodies are being burnt up, and just their bodies, and not the whole house.

      1. Post Mortem forensic examination of the cases I read of, ruled those possibilities out, completely. Further substantiated by Arson Investigations, ruling out possibility, completely.

      2. In some cases i’ll bet this is the case, but like Brittius points out, i would also suspect the murder plot would be uncovered during an autopsy. SHC is a great mystery.

        1. Pardon me but… I cannot put information too in depth, that would offer possible assistance to anyone considering Homicide. What I do state in the posts are scientific and researchable facts regarding investigations into events where loss of life occurred. For anyone ever considering “outsmarting” either investigators or forensic pathologists, don’t try it.

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