An article from Ireland dated January, 2011 shows that spontaneous human combustion (SHC) remains a hot topic among paranormalists.
Spontaneous human combustion has been defined as:
Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) is the alleged burning of a person's body without a readily apparent, identifiable external source of ignition. The combustion may result in simple burns and blisters to the skin, smoking, or a complete incineration of the body. The latter is the form most often 'recognized' as SHC. source
Proponents also claim that cases of SHC may require an explanation outside that provided by science because:
- Even the skeleton is reduced to ashes, which does not happen even in crematory ovens.
- Damage is localized almost entirely to the victim, often leaving even the nearby area untouched
- The burns to the victim appear inconsistent, as the lower legs and hands are often found after the rest of the body has been incinerated.
A quick serach of Amazon shows there are quite a few books written on SHC. Most of these books posit varying ideas for the mechanism which could be underlying the phenomenon.
In "Ablaze", Larry Arnold posits the existence of an entirely new particle called the "pyroton" which he claims may be responsible for the phenomenon.
However, there are many theories which range from outright magic to paranormal to pseudoscientific to scientific.
Some of the more popular theories include:
- Static flash fires - the same mechanism behind gas station fires.
- Alcoholism - First popularized by Dickens in "Bleak House" is the idea that excess alcohol consumption somehow makes the human body more flammable
- Electrical fields - somehow, the body's electrical system becomes the source of either the initial spark or the resultant fire, possibly induced by so-called "mitochondrial explosions" resulting from oxidative phosphorylation.
- External sources - Suggesting that the fire may be started by an outside source, usually tobacco ash.
- An unusually high susceptibility to either beta or gamma radiation.
- Ball Lightning - The very existence of ball lightning itself is controversial.
Of the 200 or so claimed cases of SHC, some of the more popularly referenced ones include:
A list of other cases can found here.
While I have included some modern names and dates for reference, cases are cited as far back as 1731 (Countess de Bandi Cesanate) and 1673 (Case report by John Henry Cohausen).
Is there a known process at work in SHC or does it remain unexplained?
Has SHC ever been scientifically studied or replicated under proper observing conditions?