Saturday, October 31, 2009


In December 1966, the body of Dr. J. Irving Bentley, 92, was discovered in Pennsylvania, next to the consumption electricity meter of his home. In fact, only part of his leg and a foot, even with the slipper had been found. The rest of his body had been burned to ashes. The only evidence of the fire that killed him was a hole that was in the bathroom floor, the rest of the house was intact and had not suffered anything.

How could a man catch fire - with no apparent source of spark or flame - burning down his own body, without spreading the flames to anything around him? The case of Dr. Bentley, and hundreds of other cases like it have been labeled "Spontaneous Human Combustion" (SHC).

Although he and other victims of the phenomenon have been burned almost completely, the neighborhood where they were, or their clothes, often were left untouched.

Can humans be consumed by fire spontaneously? Many people believe that spontaneous human combustion is a real fact, but most scientists are not convinced.

What is spontaneous human combustion?

Spontaneous combustion occurs when a person breaks into flames because of a chemical reaction within, apparently not caused by an external source of heat.

The first known spontaneous human combustion was the Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin, in 1663, when he described how a woman in Paris "was reduced to ashes and smoke" while asleep. The straw mattress on which she slept was damaged by fire.

In 1673, a Frenchman named Jonas Dupont published a collection of cases of spontaneous combustion in his book "De Humani Corporis Fires spontane".

Hundreds of cases of spontaneous combustion occurred since that time and have one common feature: The victim is almost completely consumed by flames, usually inside their residence, and medical examiners present reported having smelled a sweet smoke in rooms where the events had occurred. The peculiarity that the charred bodies had was that the extremities often remain intact. Although the torso and head are charred beyond recognition, the hands, feet and / or part of the legs may be unburned. In addition, the room around the person shows little or no sign of fire, except for a small residue left on furniture or walls.

In rare cases, the internal organs of the victim remain untouched while the outside was charred. Not every victim of spontaneous human combustion were simply consumed by the flames. Some develop strange burns on the body, although there was no reason for it, or emanate smoke. Not all caught fire has died: a small percentage of people had survived by spontaneous combustion.

Theories to ignite the human body needs two things: intensely high heat and a flammable substance. Under normal circumstances the human body does not have any of those features mentioned, but some scientists have speculated about the possibility of such events over the centuries. In the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens ignited great interest in spontaneous human combustion. One of the most popular suggests is that the fire is sparked when methane accumulate in the intestines and is ignited by enzymes. However, many victims of spontaneous human combustion, suffer more damage on the outside than inside their bodies, apparently contradicting this theory.

Other theories speculate that the origin of fire could result from a buildup of static electricity inside the body, or originate from an external geomagnetic force exerted on the body. An expert on spontaneous human combustion, Larry Arnold, suggests that this phenomenon is the result of a new subatomic particle called 'pyroton' which interacts with cells to create a micro-explosion. But there is no scientific evidence proving the existence of this particle.

If human combustion is not real, what actually happened with the charred remains of all these pictures?

One possible explanation is the wick effect, which states that a body in continuous contact with a live coal, a lighted cigarette or other heat source, acts much like a candle. The candle is made of a wick surrounded by a wax acid-resistant. When lighted the candle wax keeps it burning.

In the human body, the fat acts as a flammable substance and the victim's clothing or their hair as wick. The fat melts from the heat, soak the clothes and acts like wax, keeping the wick burning slowly. Scientists say that is why the victims' bodies are destroyed without the call to spread the objects around.

And what about the photos of burned bodies, but with the hands and feet intact?

The answer to this question may have something to do with the temperature gradient - the idea that the top of a seated person is warmer than their bottom.

Basically, the same phenomenon occurs when you hold a match with the flame at the bottom. The flame will often vanish, because the bottom of the match is colder than the top.

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