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Human Spontaneous Combustion

Brief description of the phenomenon

The term spontaneous human combustion is known in cases of incineration of living persons where there is no external source of ignition and whose bodies are reduced to ashes almost entirely. There are several explanations of which some are from the scientific point of view as the wick effect or crimes that wanted to hide after spontaneous combustion. Although in some cases there are no eyewitnesses, which prove the fact that it is spontaneous combustion, they qualify it as such because the cause of combustion (external agent) has not been easily determined.

Although not all cases are provided with documentation of details about the victim or the event; there are some in which detailed descriptions are found. In these cases, the common elements are: the fire is located in the body of the victim, the rest of the furniture is intact as well as the area around the body. In general, victims have some mobility problem, there are never witnesses and they tend to be elderly.

This phenomenon was first described by Paul Rolli in the 19th century. He presented some cases of victims who lost their lives by incineration without being able to find any external agent as a source of the fire.

Rolli agrees with the theory of Cohausen that exposes that some substances contained in the human body could generate a flame from its interior when combined with alcoholic beverages and the internal movements of the body.


Scientific explanations

Within the wick effect, the theory is proposed that the victim’s clothing is ignited by some source of external ignition. It burns the skin and begins to melt body fat. This fat is absorbed by the fabric and comes to act as the wick of a candle.

Another scientific explanation is that we mentioned previously as a crime that was tried to hide as a spontaneous combustion event. Among the examples, these cases mention that of Countess von Gorlitz in 1847. After three years the confession of a servant named Stauff was achieved. Stauff was surprised by the countess when he was stealing jewelry and money. So he piled combustible objects on the desk and lit them on fire.

Paranormal explanations and static discharges

Among the paranormal explanations are those of divine intervention, the increase of combustibility by the consumption of alcohol, exotic particles, mystical energies or interventions of spirits.

The fire by static discharges affirms to us that the human body under certain circumstances can generate static activity in the form of spark and ignite the clothes.

This phenomenon was noticed by Professor Robin Beach of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. This stipulated that the person could accumulate enough static charge to ignite materials at the contact of his body.

John E. Heymer in his book The Entrancing Flame presented two examples of survivors of potentially fatal static discharges with eyewitness accounts.

The cases were that of Debbie Clark in September 1985 in which her body occasionally emitted bursts of blue light.

The other case was that of Susan Motteshead who suffered a fire in her clothes and in which her daughter witnessed what happened.


Use of the theme in works of fiction

This topic of human spontaneous combustion appears in the novel, La casa desierta, 1853. Also in the television series Picket Fences and in the film This is Spinal Tab.

There are other novels and television series in which the subject is present. We only mention a few examples in this article, but you can find others using the references in this article.



The issue is enigmatic and still involves some mystery because there are many cases in which there is no evidence to scientifically explain what happened. We only share some data and references that can help the reader form their own opinion.


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