A Scientific Explanation for Spontaneous Human Combustion

FlamesThe phenomenon dubbed “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC) has been described in the medical and scientific literature for centuries, dating back to the late 17th century. SHC also has appeared in fictional literature by authors such as Charles Dickens and Herman Melville. There has been no conclusive scientific proof to explain how SHC happens—how human bodies, which are about 75% water, can ignite (supposedly spontaneously, hence the name) and burn at temperatures high enough to destroy bones, muscles and other soft tissues while leaving material in the immediate vicinity relatively untouched by the fire. Cases of SHC are rare, making it difficult to determine a cause. In a 2002 Journal of Forensic Science paper (1), the author estimated that there were only approximately 200 cases worldwide since the 17th century.

Recently, a case that has all of the hallmarks of SHC was reported in the Journal of Forensic Science (2), causing the authors to revisit the topic, list the commonalities of apparent SHC cases and re-iterate the current hypothesis that might explain this bizarre phenomenon. Continue reading “A Scientific Explanation for Spontaneous Human Combustion”