A 61-year-old mentally handicapped woman burst into flames in her kitchen. "Her father, who was seated at a nearby table, said he saw a flash of light out of the corner of his eye and turned ... to find that she was enveloped in flames, mainly around her face and hands." The fire was put out with water by Mr. Saffin and his son-in-law. No cause of the fire was found.The father and son-in-law claim the fire lasted only a minute or two.

Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) is the alleged process of a human body catching fire as a result of heat generated by internal chemical or nuclear action.

Theories about Spontaneous Human Combustion- Alchoholism - many Spontaneous Human Combustion vicitms have been alcoholics. But experiments in the 19th century demonstrated that flesh impregnated with alcohol will not burn with the intense heat associated with Spontaneous Human Combustion.

- Deposits of flammable body fat - Many victims have been overweight - yet others have been skinny.

- Devine Intervention - Centuries ago people felt that the explosion was a sign from God of devine punishment.

- Build-up of static electricity - no known form of electrostatic discharge could cause a human to burst into flames.

- An explosive combination of chemicals can form in the digestive system - due to poor diet.

- Electrical fields that exist within the human body might be capable of 'short circuiting' somehow, that some sort of atomic chain reaction could generate tremendous internal heat.

No satisfactory explanation of Spontaneous Human Combustion has ever been given. It is still an unsolved mystery.

SHC mostly cases
The following facts are common to all SHC cases

1. Eighty percent of the victims are female

2. The body is very badly burned, but the room the body was found in is pretty much intact except for a fine layer of soot

3. A yellow, foul smelling oil is usually surrounding the body

4. The torso, including the chest, abdomen and hips tend to be totally consumed, sparing portions of the extremities and the head - the clothing can also be intact

5. The victim was always on their own - no shouts or screams could ever be heard

Sometimes victims develop burns on their bodies that have no known external cause. These strange wounds commonly start as small discomforts that slowly grow into large, painful marks.

Sometimes the victim will exhibit a mysterious smoke from the body. In these odd and rare occurences smoke is seen to emanate from a person, with no associated fire or source of smoke other than the person's body.

The Extraordinary
10-11 years ago a programme used to be aired on Star Plus called, 'The Extraordinary'. In one of their programs they had a section on SHC. All the cases shown in that were screaming terribly, a couple of them were with friends when in happened, and one person who was alone, his screams could be heard by the people in the building. They tried to break into his house to check but he was burnt before they could come in.

History of SHC
The first reliable historic evidence of Spontaneous Human Combustion appears to be from the year 1673, when Frenchman Jonas Dupont published a collection of Spontaneous Human Combustion cases and studies entitled De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis. Dupont was inspired to write this book after encountering records of the Nicole Millet case, in which a man was acquitted of the murder of his wife when the court was convinced that she had been killed by spontaneous combustion. Millet, a hard-drinking Parisian was found reduced to ashes in his straw bed, leaving just his skull and finger bones. The straw matting was only lightly damaged. Dupont's book on this strange subject brought it out of the realm of folkloric rumor and into the popular public imagination.

Most remarkable Historical evidence for SHC
Perhaps the most famous case occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old widow, spontaneously combusted while sitting in her easy chair on July 1, 1951. The next morning, her next door neighbor tried the doorknob, found it hot to the touch and went for help. She returned to find Mrs. Reeser, or what was left of her, in a blackened circle four feet in diameter.

All that remained of the 175-pound woman and her chair was a few blackened seat springs, a section of her backbone, a shrunken skull the size of a baseball, and one foot encased in a black stain slipper just beyond the four-foot circle. Plus about 10 pounds of ashes.

The police report declared that Mrs. Reeser went up in smoke when her highly flammable rayon-acetate nightgown caught fire, perhaps because of a dropped cigarette.

But one medical examiner stated that the 3,000-degree heat required to destroy the body should have destroyed the apartment as well. In fact, damage was minimal - the ceiling and upper walls were covered with soot. No chemical accelerants, incidentally, were found.

Consequnces of SHC
The body is normally more severely burned than one that has been caught in a normal fire. The burns are not distributed evenly over the body; the extremities are usually untouched by fire, whereas the torso usually suffers severe burning.In some cases the torso is completely destroyed, the bones being reduced completely to ash. Small portions of the body (an arm, a foot, maybe the head) remain unburned.Only objects immediately associated with the body have burned; the fire never spread away from the body. SHC victims have burnt up in bed without the sheets catching fire, clothing worn is often barely singed, and flammable materials only inches away remain untouched. A greasy soot deposit covers the ceiling and walls, usually stopping three to four feet above the floor.Objects above this three to four foot line show signs of heat damage like melted candles, cracked mirrors, etc.Although temperatures of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit are normally required to char a body so thoroughly (crematoria, which usually operate in the neighborhood of 2,000 degrees, leave bone fragments which must be ground up by hand), frequently little or nothing around the victim is damaged, except perhaps the exact spot where the deceased ignited.

SHC- possible explainations
I have gone through a number of detailed researches pertaining to SHC by forensic experst, chemists, scientists etc and there are a number of views regarding it.

Till date none of them have been able to put forth a complete explaining of SHC. Infact some of them have discarded the phenomenon as a total myth but keeping in mind the number of cases and the eye witnesses, we are assured that SHC does exist.

There is no involvement of any toxicology in this case. What has been taken as a possible explaination is that the subcutaneous layer of adipose tissue in humn/animal body i.e the layer of fat below the skin is capable of undergoing conbustion to an extent. Now the question arises , can it be to such a great extent? The answer has been given as the Multiple Wick Effect. The clothes of the body specially if they are made of fabricks that readily catch fire act as multiple wicks which start burning after the internal temperatures rise and increase the combustion to a great extent. An oily suit has been found to be deposited around such burnt bodies which confirms the involvement of body fat.
Some people have also proposed high levels of body alcohol as a possible reason but this has been ruled out as no matter how much high they may be, they are too dilute to cause such a combustion.

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