Is Spontaneous Combustion in Humans Possible?

Is Spontaneous Combustion in Humans Possible?
Photo by Vadim Sadovski on Unsplash

Most people will roll their eyes or laugh when they hear of spontaneous combustion in humans. But for those who have never heard of it, here’s a brief overview of the science behind what happens to our bodies when we combust.

Spontaneous human combustion is a natural phenomenon that has been documented throughout history. It’s the process of a living person bursting into flames without an apparent external source of ignition. Usually after this type of event, there is nothing left but ashes with no other evidence to point to how or why the fire started. There are only about 50 cases in which this happened before 1900 and approximately 40 people have died as a result since then.

The phenomenon of spontaneous combustion in humans, also known as spontaneous human combustion, is not widely recognized by science. It’s not something that would be entered in the International Classification of Diseases. There are, however, examples of spontaneous human combustion that have been recorded. This may prove that this phenomenon is indeed possible!

How Common is Spontaneous Combustion in Humans?

Skepticism about spontaneous human combustion has not always been the widespread view of this phenomenon. In fact, during the 17th and 18th centuries people’s opinion was quite different.

Scientists have found many cases where charred corpses were discovered in the wake of fires. But what’s most fascinating is that their external skin would be fried to a crisp, while internal organs remained intact and untouched by fire. Sometimes everything but one digit or limb was scorched black; other times all burns occurred only on an exposed area like hands or feet.

Some of the spontaneous human combustion cases involved drunkards who were considered public nuisances by townspeople. Many people believe these people were being punished due to their unacceptable behavior. While others were thought to have been burned up from falling asleep with a lit cigarette in their hand. So this leads us to our next question…

Is Spontaneous Human Combustion Real?

Researchers, along with popular belief, paved the way to testing the theories of alcohol being at fault for many of these cases. But Is Spontaneous Human Combustion Real?

The theory suggests that if someone were to consume large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time they may become combustible if put in contact with fire. I suppose if all things were perfect in such a scenario, then yes spontaneous human combustion would be possible. However, it wouldn’t be as mystical as you may imagine.

So they decided to perform a controlled experiment which involved soaking a rat in alcohol for a year after which they would set it on fire. We need to address this topic given its relevance. But if it were me doing this experiment I would have chosen one that was a bit more humane.

That being said, the rat was ignited and it went up in a raging fire. Most outer layers of flesh were burned, but the rat’s internal tissue and organs remained untouched. They actually repeated this experiment, soaking them in alcohol for longer periods of time. However the results were still the same.

What Causes Spontaneous Combustion?

By the time the 19th century had rolled around, advances in biology and chemistry had allowed researchers to dig deeper into the possibilities of what causes spontaneous combustion. These seemingly inexplicable fires may have an explanation. After much research new possibilities were discovered that could explain why this was happening.

7 Possible Causes for Spontaneous Combustion

What Causes Spontaneous Human Combustion?
Photo by Ryan Cryar on Unsplash
  1. Gas in the stomach may seem like just a normal part of digestion, but these gases are actually flammable.
  2. Cadaver bodies are capable of producing flammable gas.
  3. Haystacks and compost sites may have sufficient heat to produce spontaneous combustion.
  4. The luminescence that insects and fish give off can trigger a burning sensation, which leads to an internal fire.
  5. Static electricity could produce very hot sparks that can set a body on fire given the conditions are right.
  6. Even though many chemicals are inert, when mixed they may accidentally form explosive compounds.
  7. Your body is made up of a variety of fats and oils which are flammable.

There are a number of hypotheses about why so-called spontaneous human combustion occurs. And even though the ones listed above are facts, they are still nothing more than hypotheses. However there is a great resource for those of you that like a more scientific approach…you can find it in this Science Direct article on Spontaneous Combustion.

Can the Human Body Act as a Fuel Source and Conductor?

It is possible that your digestive system might supply enough gas to produce an internal combustion. Along with Static electricity, the buildup of these gases could be a deadly combination. At the very least it could be a condition that would start spontaneous human combustion, even though something else could fuel its flame after ignition.

According to experts from the National Fire Protection Association, the human body does have the potential to build up a static charge equivalent to several thousand volts. It is normal for these types of static charges to be dissipated into the air. But under the right conditions, such as in a room full of volatile chemicals, an explosion could be plausible.

But this still doesn’t explain spontaneous human combustion on a grand scale, in which someone is reduced to ash while the room and furnishings remain untouched. Let’s explore a few other possibilities.

Other Possible Causes for Spontaneous Human Combustion

So far there have been many explanations given for why someone would burst into flames. Here are a few more that seem a little more complex:

There have been many attempts to uncover the mystery of spontaneous human combustion, but nothing has yet been proven. Therefore this phenomenon, for now, will remain a mystery. You can read up on 10 Cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion if you would like more details about this oddity.

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