Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spontaneous Human Combustion

Spontaneous Human Combustion is when the body catches on fire by an internal chemical or nuclear reaction without some sort of external source of ignition. Throughout history, there have been several accounts of supposed Spontaneous Human Combustion. 
Although there have been several accounts of this situation, can humans actually spontaneously combust?

According to the Skeptic's Dictionary, accounts of Spontaneous Human Combustion have originated with police and fire investigators who found partially burned corpses near unburned furniture or have been found partially burned in a room that has remained unchanged. Partially burned can be classified as having a majority of the body burned to ashes while some limbs, such as legs or feet, still remain intact.

One of the cases of SHC was with Jean Lucille Saffin, a 61 year old mentally disabled woman who went on fire in her kitchen. She was with her father and he claimed to see a "flash of light" from the corner of his eye. When he turned to look at her, he saw that her hands and face were in flames. He and her brother in law rid the fire with some water. According to the reports, there has been no cause of the fire and that the fire lasted for a few minutes, which allowed for the room to remained untouched by the fire. The policeman assigned to this case came to the conclusion and told Saffin's relatives that he believed this is a case of SHC.

Another case of Spontaneous Human Combustion involves an elderly woman named Helen Conway. She was described as an "infirm woman who was a heavy and carefree smoker." She spontaneously combusted when she was sitting in one of the chairs in her bedroom. According to a fire chief investigating the situation, he assumed that this was a case of SHC because it took her 21 minutes to burn and that in her room were many cigarette butts allover. 

Along with these cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion, there are several theories as to the cause of this occurrence. 
Some believe that the elderly may have accidentally set themselves on fire or that they have been murdered. 
Another theory of SHC comes from Larry Arnold, who believes that human cells are hit by some mysterious particle called "pyrotron." He claims that the "pyrotron" causes a nuclear chain reaction inside the human body. 
An additional supposed theory on the cause of SHC is known as the "wick effect." According to the Skeptic Dictionary, "The ignition point of human fat is low and to get the fire going would require an external source." When the body is on fire, the body acts as a wick, in which the fat would burn in certain places.

However, there are several arguments against the possibility of Spontaneous Human Combustion. The human body is composed mainly of water, which limit the kinds of flammable substances in the body that make SHC possible. Fat composites and methane gas are the other substances in the body that are flammable, but there are few when compared to the amount of water that makes up the body. Also, it takes 2 hours at 1600 degrees Fahrenheit for the body to burn to ash when cremated. Skeptics also argue that if the deceased person ate newspaper, drunk oil and left in a "well heated room" to rot, there may be a possibility of combustion in his gut. Yet, the chances are slim.

I do not think that Spontaneous Human Combustion is possible. From a scientific point of view,  the body is composed mostly of water and I think that it would not be easy to just randomly ignite without some sort of external stimulus. Although the fat in our body and the methane gas we expel is flammable, there is not enough in our bodies to just allow it to spontaneously combust. Again,there has to be something else to cause the fire. If it takes the body 2 hours at such high temperatures to burn to ash in a cremation, I also think an external factor has to take place for the body to supposedly spontaneously combust in 2 minutes without the entire room going on fire, according to those cases of SHC. Even though the gases we inhale can be flammable, most especially oxygen, then why would we inhale them if they would help stimulate SHC? I think that Spontaneous Human Combustion is not possible because SHC assumes that the body can go beyond its capability and limits. Human bodies can go on fire but with some help from an external source.


1 comment:

  1. This was an interesting post, through studying the sciences and the amazement of the human body i find it laughable that someone could just spontaneously lignite and burn so rapid.