Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spontaneous Human Combustion

Imagine that you’re sitting quietly on a nice cozy afternoon.
You’re reading your favorite book and no worries crosses your mind.
Suddenly, you feel heat grow all through your body, and after a few moments you’re engulfed by flames, leaving nothing but a faint smell of burnt barbecue and your cremated remains behind.

To burn a body you only need two things: intensely high heat and a flammable substance.
For example; You poor gasoline in someone’s body and then light it up. Or your still lit cigarette falls from your lips when you fall asleep.

Spontaneous Human Combustion, as the name already says, is when a human being suddenly burst into flames without any clear sort of either of these two thing.
Although the reason why is not very clear, many reasons are being studied - not only by scientists, but by paranormal experts who say that there’s something else beyond chemicals behind this phenomena.

There has been about 200 filed cases on SHC - the latest of which happened in 2010 when an Irish man named Michael Faherty, 76 years old, died at his home in Galway on 22 December.
Policemen say that the fire “destroyed only the body, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath him.”

No other forms of ignition were found, thus leading the coroner to label his death as “Spontaneous Combustion”.
It is a bit disconcerting that something like this happened not so long ago.

Other real cases

Dr. John Irving Bentley (1966 - Coudersport, Pennsylvania)

When Mr. Gosnell, a meter reader, went to Dr. Irving’s house on a December morning, he couldn’t really expect to see the 92-year-old Doctor turned to dust, but well, it was what he did in fact find.

The only thing left of the Dr. was his lower left leg, with a shoe still on, and dark ashes.

The coroner would only state that the physician died of “death by asphyxiation and 90 percent burning of the body.” But what could’ve caused this? One of the theories was that he slept with his pipe still on - but his pipe was far away and seemingly unused; there were no other sources of fire.
It also seemed that Dr. Bentley’s fire started in his bedroom while he was asleep.
He then woke up, ran to the bathroom (probably to try and water down the fire), but met his demise there, where his remains found the next morning.

Mary Reeser (1951 - St. Petersburg, Florida)

Mary Reeser’s landlady was the one who found her - well, not literally found her, but as she went into Mrs. Reese's apartment to give her a telegram, she found that the doorknob to the apartment was incredibly hot. Fearing for her tenant safety, she called the police.
Mary was nothing but piles of ash and legs (with her shoes still on!), and a incredibly shrunken skull which people said it was “the size of a teacup” when they found her.

Even if such shrinking is not unheard of, since the heat could cause the skull to diminish, people still took it as a paranormal phenomenon in itself, bringing a lot of attention to the case on those good ol’ times.

Phyllis Newcombe (1938 - Chelmsford, England)

27 year old Phyllis was just going down the stairs at Shire Hall after a ball, when her dress suddenly caught on fire. She then ran back into the ballroom looking for help, but collapsed unconscious on the floor.
People aid her, but she unfortunately died a few days later in the hospital.
There was no fire nor source of heat around, and witness say that her dress literally just caught on fire.

These are only some of the many known victims.

What is the truth?

There are a lot of theories out there that try to explain what the hell goes on in such circumstances, but so far there isn’t a certain fact regarding SHC.
The most popular theory is that fire starts when methane (a flammable gas that has a wide distribution in nature) sparks and builds up in the intestines and gets ignited by enzymes (proteins in the body that act as catalysts to induce and speed up chemical reactions).
But since most SHC victims had more damage to the outside of their bodies rather than the insides, this theory seems unlikely.

One of the most possibles explanations is what scientists call “The Wick Effect”, that proposes that the body, when lit by a cigarette, smoldering ember or whatever other heat source, acts much like an inside out candle.

So, is there anything paranormal about this?
It is likely that a human body could go through such experience without the need of a supernatural source, and maybe the cause of the fire can’t be found because it got completely burned with its owner, like a cigarette or a match.
But it is something beyond our current comprehension.
And one of the many things science can not explain.

And with this, I say... keep cool.

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