On the floor of his living room in Ireland, a 76-year-old man perished from burns in December 2010.
According to the Irish Independent, a coroner made an official determination almost a year later that he had died from spontaneous human combustion, a unique phenomenon.
This phenomena, as it has been known throughout history, involves a body catching fire unexpectedly without an outside source of ignition. According to Roger Byard, a pathologist at the University of Adelaide, when coroners arrive at the site, the victim’s hands and feet are generally still intact but the body and head have been reduced to ashes. Furniture nearby is frequently only slightly damaged.
But why doesn’t it happen more frequently, Byard questioned, if spontaneous human combustion is a real phenomenon? According to him, there have been 200 accounts of such occurrences in the previous 300 years.
“People do burn, but not spontaneously,” is the truth.
“Spontaneous” human combustion over the ages:
A Danish anatomist who specialized in the 17th century wrote about the first instance of spontaneous human combustion.
It originated in Italy probably in the late 14th century, when Polonus Vorstius, a knight, drank wine the night before he caught fire. The notion of a person suddenly engulfing in flames was frequently connected to binge drinking alcohol.
By addressing it in his 1853 book “Bleak House,” Charles Dickens fanned the myth’s flames. In it, Krook, an alcoholic character, spontaneously catches fire and perishes from his burns.
Others have explained the event over the years by blaming it on a divine visitation, being overweight, or intestinal gases.
Byard asserted that there is little scientific support for these beliefs.
“Yes, people’s bodies burn, but there’s absolutely no proof that it occurs as a spontaneous combustion,” he stated, adding that while human combustion is possible and true according to multiple stories.
Almost all of the accounts, Byard continued, featured an outside source of flame. Lit candles, lamps, or cigarettes are the most typical offenders.
Bodies can behave like a candles:
The wick effect, which postulates that people have the capacity to behave like candles, is the most widely accepted scientific theory explaining spontaneous human combustion.
Scientists in the UK mimicked the same circumstances using a dead pig in 1998 as part of a BBC television programme. Before setting the pig on fire, it was covered in a blanket. The pig’s feet were left behind, which is precisely what happened in other cases of reported spontaneous human combustion.
According to the “wick theory,” after being lit on fire, a human body is maintained in flames by its own fat. Conversely, clothing and blankets function like a candle wick.
“You can see individuals sipping spirits while wrapped in blankets and spilling the spirits, which essentially work as an accelerant with gasoline or oil,” said Byard. “They drop a cigarette into the large alcohol pool, which causes it to ignite and burn extremely slowly. We are aware that fat may burn at incredibly low temperatures.”
Hands and feet don’t give enough fuel for flame to completely devour because they have less fat than other body parts. Urban myth is being believed by people, according to Byard. “Much, much simpler than supernatural intervention” is the underlying mechanism.
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