spontaneous human combustion

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) describes reported cases of the burning of a living human body without an apparent external source of ignition. There have been about 200 cited cases[1] worldwide over a period of around 300 years.

There are also many hypotheses which attempt to explain the various cases of human spontaneous combustion: Paranormal explanations (e.g., a ghost or divine intervention) Natural explanations based on an unknown and otherwise unobserved phenomenon (e.g., production of abnormally concentrated gas or raised levels of blood alcohol cause spontaneous ignition) Natural explanations that involve an external source of ignition (e.g., the victim dropped a cigarette) Objections to natural explanations typically refer to the degree of burning of the body with respect to its surroundings. Indeed, one of the common markers of a case of SHC is that the body — or part of it — suffered an extraordinarily large degree of burning, with surroundings or lower limbs comparatively undamaged.[1] Despite scientific evidence, supernatural explanations of spontaneous human combustion remain popular. Contents [hide] 1 Characteristics 2 Suggested explanations 2.1 Natural explanations 2.2 Unverified natural phenomena 3 Possible cases 3.1 Deaths 4 In fiction 5 See also 6 References 7 External links [edit]Characteristics

The spontaneous combustion of people (i.e. death from a fire originating within the victim's body without a direct external cause) is a theorised explanation for a number of unexplained cases, some of which are well-documented and many of which are not. The more convincing cases share the following characteristics: The body is completely or almost completely incinerated, while nearby furniture that should normally have been damaged under such temperatures remains intact. Damage is limited to the victim's clothing, to the area of the floor or furniture on which they died, and to the ceiling above the corpse. The torso is the focus of the fire, and if remains are found these are of the extremities, such as the feet. There are no traces of fire accelerant, and the fire does not have an evident external cause. The victim is typically alone at the time of death, and is thought to have been alive when the fire started, despite showing little sign of having struggled.[2] [edit]Suggested explanations

Many hypotheses attempt to explain how SHC might occur but according to those that rely on current scientific understanding, incidents that might appear as spontaneous combustion actually had an external source of ignition — and the likelihood of true spontaneous human combustion is quite low.[3] Benjamin Radford, science writer and deputy editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer, casts doubt on the plausibility of spontaneous human combustion, “If SHC is a real phenomenon (and not the result of an elderly or infirm person being too close to a flame source), why doesn't it happen more often? There are 5 billion people in the world, and yet we don't see reports of people bursting into flame while walking down the street, attending football games, or sipping a coffee at a local Starbucks.”[4] Paranormal researcher Brian Dunning states that SHC stories "are simply the rare cases where a natural death in isolation has been followed by a slow combustion from some nearby source of ignition." Other stories of people suddenly aflame should be called "Unsolved deaths by fire"; just because the cause was not discovered does not mean SHC occurs.[5] [edit]Natural explanations Almost all cases of SHC involve persons with low mobility, due to advanced age or obesity, along with poor health.[6] Victims show a high likelihood of dying in their sleep, or of being unable to move once they had caught fire. Cigarettes are often seen as the source of fire, as dropped cigarettes are the leading cause of house fires in the USA.[7] Natural causes such as heart attacks may lead to the victim dying, subsequently dropping the cigarette, which after a period of smouldering can ignite the victim's clothes.[8] The "wick effect" hypothesis suggests that a small external flame source, such as a burning cigarette, chars the clothing of the victim at a location, splitting the skin and releasing subcutaneous fat, which is in turn absorbed into the burned clothing, acting as a wick. This combustion can continue for as long as the fuel is available. This hypothesis has been successfully tested with animal tissue (pig) and is consistent with evidence recovered from cases of human combustion.[9][10] The human body typically has enough stored energy in fat and other chemical stores to fully combust the body; even lean people have several pounds of fat in their tissues. This fat, once heated by the burning clothing, wicks into the clothing much as candle wax (which was originally made of animal fat) wicks into a lit candle wick to provide the fuel needed to keep the wick burning.[11] Scalding can cause burn-like injuries, including death, without setting fire to clothing. Although not applicable in cases where the body is charred and burnt, this has been suggested as a cause in at least one claimed SHC-like event.[12] [edit]Unverified natural phenomena Another hypothesis suggests high-energy particles or gamma rays[1] coupled with susceptibilities in the potential victim (e.g., increased alcohol in the blood) triggers the initial reaction. This process may use no external oxygen to spread throughout the body, since it may not be an oxidation-reduction reaction. However, no reaction mechanism has been proposed, nor has a source for the high-energy particles. The victim is an alcoholic and has been smoking while drinking or shortly after drinking a strong spirit. There are claims that this raises the blood alcohol level to a point where it ignites; however, this theory is considered implausible (Ignition of alcoholic substances generally requires a mixture of around 40% ethyl alcohol by volume, whereas death by alcohol poisoning occurs at only 0.5% alcohol concentration in the blood). However, this does introduce the probability that the victim falls asleep while holding a lit cigarette.[citation needed] Another hypothesis is that both clothing and the person are ignited by a static electric discharge. A person walking across a carpet can build up sufficient charge and voltage to create a spark. It is unlikely that this could start a clothing fire, as although the voltage can be high (several thousand volts), the stored energy is very low (typically less than a joule). Proponents of this hypothesis say that records show there has never been a recorded case of a naked SHC victim.[citation needed] [edit]Possible cases

[edit]Deaths Some cited cases include:[1] Polonus Vorstius (Italy, 1470) Nicole Millet (France, 1725) Cornelia di Bandi (Italy, 1731) Phyllis Newcombe (United Kingdom, 1938) Mary Reeser (United States, 1951) [13] Anna Martin (United States, 1957) Helen Conway (United States, 1964) John Irving Bentley (United States, 1966) Robert Francis Bailey (United Kingdom, 1967) Ginette Kazmierczak (France, 1977) Henry Thomas (Wales, 1980) Jeannie Saffin (England, 1982) George I. Mott (United States, 1986) Michael Faherty (Ireland, 2010) Elizabeth McLaughlin (Ireland, 2011)[14] [edit]In fiction

Examples of spontaneous human combustion are common in fictional works from the 19th century onwards. It is used both as a central plot device and as an incidental occurrence. The second and third chapters of Charles Brockden Brown's 1798 novel Wieland focus on the emigration of Wieland, a German, to colonial America. As part of his religious practices, he spends solitary hours in a temple constructed on his property. One night his family hears "a loud report, like the explosion of a mine." Rushing to the temple, they find Wieland lying with his clothing burned off and delirious. He dies soon after. While the term "spontaneous human combustion" was not yet created, Brown includes a footnote at the end of chapter 2 that suggests the phenomenon and its existence in 18th century medical studies. The footnote reads: "A case, in its symptoms exactly parallel to this, is published in one of the Journals of Florence. See, likewise, similar cases reported by Messrs. Merille and Muraire, in the Journal de Medicine, for February and May, 1783. The researches of Maffei and Fontana have thrown light upon this subject." Russian author Nikolai Gogol includes SHC in three works, including his novel Dead Souls.[15] Charles Dickens provides a very graphical depiction of the death of the shopkeeper Mr. Krook by spontaneous combustion in his novel Bleak House (1852). At the time, many readers considered spontaneous combustion highly dubious if not impossible, but Dickens nonetheless staunchly defended the plausibility of his account. Considering his prominence, Dickens' portrayal likely renewed public interest and belief in the phenomenon.[16] Jules Verne describes in his novel Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen (1878) that when a fictional African "King of Kazounde" tasted a punch set aflame, "An act of spontaneous combustion had just taken place. The king had taken fire like a petroleum bonbon. This fire developed little heat, but it devoured nonetheless." Verne had no doubt about SHC being the result of alcoholism: "In bodies so thoroughly alcoholized, combustion only produces a light and bluish flame, that water cannot extinguish. Even stifled outside, it would still continue to burn inwardly. When liquor has penetrated all the tissues, there exists no means of arresting the combustion."[17] [edit]See also

Bleak House (novel) Combustion Exploding animal List of magazines of anomalous phenomena Self immolation Spontaneous combustion This Is Spinal Tap (musical) Wick effect [edit]References

^ a b c d "Ablaze!: The Mysterious Fires of Spontaneous Human Combustion" Arnold, Larry E. 1995 ISBN 0-87131-789-3 ^ "'First Irish case' of death by spontaneous combustion". BBC News. 23 September 2011. ^ Skeptic's Dictionary on spontaneous human combustion, Retrieved Oct 20, 2007 "The physical possibilities of spontaneous human combustion are remote." ^ "Irishman died of spontaneous human combustion, coroner claims". 26 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-8. ^ Brian Dunning (2011-05-17). "Spontaneous Human Combustion: People can catch on fire... but can it really happen when there is no external source of ignition?". Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena. Retrieved 2011-11-7. ^ ^ ^ Joe Nickell (March–April 1998). "Fiery tales that spontaneously destruct - reports on spontaneous human combustion - includes an investigative chronology based on a published photograph". Skeptical Inquirer 22.2. ^ Palmiere C, Staub C, La Harpe R, Mangin P (2009). "Ignition of a human body by a modest external source: a case report". Forensic Sci Int 188 (1-3): e17–9. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2009.03.027. PMID 19410396. ^ Campbell, S. J.; S. Nurbakhsh (1999). "Combustion of animal fat and its implications for the consumption of human bodies in fires". Science & Justice 39 (1): 27–38. ^ Watson, Stephanie. "How Spontaneous Human Combustion Works". HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks Inc.. Retrieved 24 September 2011. ^ Joe Nickell (Nov-December 1996). "Not-so-spontaneous human combustion". Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-08-16. ^ Ben Welter (August 9, 1951). "Cinder Lady". Minneapolis Start (Associated Press). ^ "Spontaneous combustion a myth, says coroner". RTE News. 11 November 2011. Retrieved November 20, 2011. ^ Lee B Croft. "People in Threes Going Up In Smoke and Other Triplicities in Russian Literature and Culture" The Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 59, No. 2 (2005), pp. l 29–49 ^ "Does Spontaneous Human Combustion Exist?". BBC News. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 2011-03-11. ^ Verne, Jules (June 17, 2004). Dick Sand a Captain at Fifteen. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. pp. 279. ISBN 978-1419116056. [edit]External links

A BBC article describing the experiment "HowStuffWorks 'How Spontaneous Human Combustion Works'" [[File:Example]]

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