How Spontaneous Human Combustion Works


Tales of Spontaneous Combustion
Stories of spontaneous human combustion abound. But is it really possible? Andrés Nieto Porras, Used Under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License

These are just a few of the many hundred reported cases of spontaneous human combustion:

In 1951, a 67-year-old widow named Mary Reeser was at home in St. Petersburg, Florida. On the morning of July 2, her landlady discovered that Reeser's front door handle was hot. When the landlady broke into the apartment with the help of two workmen, they found a slipper-clad foot and what looked like a charred, shrunken skull. No other body parts were present. Those gruesome remains sat in a puddle of grease on the floor where Reeser's easy chair used to be. The rest of her apartment bore very little evidence of fire. Paranormal enthusiasts see Reeser's death as a classic example of spontaneous human combustion. Skeptics point out that the woman was a confirmed smoker who'd taken at least two sleeping tablets that day. Maybe a dropped cigarette — and not SHC — was what sealed her doom [source: Kelly].

In 1982, a mentally handicapped woman named Jean Lucille "Jeannie" Saffin was sitting with her elderly father at their home in Edmonton, in northern London. To her parent's horror, Jeannie's upper body suddenly became enveloped in flames. The stove appeared to be unlit and no smoke or fire damage could be found anywhere else in the room. Even the wooden chair that she was sitting on at the time was spared. Mr. Saffin and his son-in-law, Donald Carroll, managed to put out the blaze, but after a brief hospital stay, Jeannie died of third-degree burns. Did she combust without warning? Believers think so, but some forensics analysts wonder if an ember from her father's pipe ignited poor Jeannie's clothing [source: Nickell].

In 2010, 76-year-old Michael Faherty of Galway, Ireland was found dead on his living room floor. His body was thoroughly crisped, with his head lying beside his open fireplace. The ceiling space immediately above his body showed burn marks, and so did the floor beneath it. Yet nothing else in Faherty's home was torched. News of his tragic death probably wouldn't have spread beyond the local obituaries if coroner Ciaran McLoughlin didn't point to SHC as its cause. "This fire was thoroughly investigated," McLoughlin reported in an official statement, "and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation." Not everyone is convinced, though: Critics say that an ember from the fireplace could've landed on Faherty's clothing and started a fatal blaze [source: Radford].

To find out more about spontaneous human combustion and related topics, check out the links below.

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Sources

  • BBC News. "New Light on Human Torch Mystery." August 31, 1998. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/158853.stm
  • Behr, Edward. "Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America." Arcade Press. 2011.
  • Benecke, Mark. "Spontaneous Human Combustion: Thoughts of a Forensic Biologist," Skeptical Inquirer, March-April 1998, volume 22, pages 47-51.
  • Endeavour News. "50 Years Later Bentley Death Still a Mystery." March 23, 2015. http://www.endeavornews.com/news/2015-03-28/Potter_County_News/50_years_later_Bentley_death_still_a_mystery.html
  • Fransen, Steve and Zaugg, Ned. "Spontaneous Combustion of Hay." Washington State University. https://ext.wsu.edu/hay-combustion.html
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  • Radford, Benjamin. "Coroner Concludes Irishman Dead of Spontaneous Human Combustion. Live Science. Sept. 25, 2011. https://www.livescience.com/16215-spontaneous-human-combustion-real.html
  • Radford, Benjamin. "Spontaneous Human Combustion: Facts and Theories." Live Science. Dec. 18, 2013. https://www.livescience.com/42080-spontaneous-human-combustion.html
  • Reville, William. "Explanation Overdue for the Combustion of Humans." The Irish Times. Oct. 20, 2011. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/explanation-overdue-for-combustion-of-humans-1.628038
  • South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service. "Self Heating and Spontaneous Combustion." http://www.mfs.sa.gov.au/site/community_safety/home_fire_and_life_safety_information_sheets_domestic/self_heating_and_spontaneous_combustion.jsp
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  • Weir, Kirsten. "Up in Smoke," Current Science, Volume 89, Number 8, Dec. 5, 2003, page 4.

Last editorial update on Aug 24, 2018 04:56:26 pm.

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