Human Spontaneous Combustion

 In the 1400’s, Polonus Vorstius was just a regular Italian knight who liked wine, women, and song.  One night, the knight consumed ‘two ladles’ of very strong wine one night. The wine disagreed with him. He turned to vomit. . People say that he immediately vomited flame, and then burst into flames entirely. No one else seemed to have any problem with the wine, and people were baffled as to how this happened.

Thus, the first case of Human Spontaneous Combustion was reported.  Wikipedia defines human Spontaneous Combustion (HSC) as “Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) is a term encompassing reported cases of the combustion of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without an apparent external source of ignition.”

                In St Petersburg, a landlady was checking on all the tenants. When she got to Mary Reeser’s room, the tenant refused to answer the door. The landlady had others help her to open the door. Inside, they found what was left of Ms. Reeser. There was a skull and an undamaged foot lying in the middle of a 6ft scorch mark.  A chair and end table sitting in the middle of the scorch mark had no damage to them nor was a pile of papers nearby burned.

Mary Reeser

Mary Reeser

It seems that all the stories have the same theme. Someone is burned to death, with few to no witnesses, no source of ignition is found and the entire body except for some extremities is burned to ash. Sometimes is reported that there is a “greasy pile” which is presumed to be what is left of the body.   The human body can be completely vaporized with   temperatures of 1,600–1,800 °F (870–980 °C). Those are the temperatures modern crematoriums use.

Countess Cornelia Di Bandi lived in the 1700s. She was found half way between her bed and her3550740 window one morning, with everything except her lower legs and three fingers burned. She had gotten up in the middle of the night to open the window, but was com
busted before she got there.  In the room, two candles had been burned, well the tallow was burned, and the wicks were not. Soot covered the room, including a plate of bread on a table. The bread was taken from the plate and offered to a dog that refused to eat it.


So what cause HSC? Theories range from stress to a mysterious particle, the Pyrotron. The Pyrotron is the brainchild of Larry Arnold.   Mr. Arnold, who has a background in electrical and mechanical engineering, claims that the Pyrotron causes a nuclear chain reaction inside a person’s body. Mr. Arnold also has a book out, Ablaze!

The only case of human combustion that has a witness is of a mentally disabled woman lived with her father. One day he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye. He turned around and found her on fire. He tried to put the fire out (which left him with burned hands) He claims she just sat there, in her chair very quietly. There was no indication of pain.  His daughter lived through the combustion, but died shortly afterwards.


Other theories include the Wick Effect. This theory claims that the clothing soaks up melted human fat and acts like the wick of a candle.  Fat has long hydrocarbon chains. That means it contains a large amount of energy. When accidently ignited, the clothing on the body acts like an inside out candle.  A candle with the fuel being the fat and the clothing being the wick.  Therefore, there is a continuous supply of fuel from the melting fat. It does not explain the initial ignition, the spontaneous part. It does explain why, during almost every case, the extremities of the victim are left unharmed.


October 2006, the body of a man was discovered at his home in Geneva. He was almost completely incinerated between the mid-chest and the knees. It is thought that he had a heart attack while smoking. The cigarette caused the ignition, followed by the wick effect. The chair containing his body was mostly consumed, but all the other objects in the room were almost undamaged. A brown oily, greasy coating covered them. The man’s dog also died.  The pooch’s death was attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

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There have been experiments to prove the wick theory, to explain spontaneous combustion.  Dr. Joh de Haan of the California Criminalistics Institute wrapped a dead pig in a blanket. He then poured a small amount of gasoline on the blanket and ignited it. After 5 hours of continuous burning even the bones were destroy.  The fat content of humans and pig are very similar. The damage to the pig, according to Dr. De Haan “is exactly the same as that from supposed spontaneous human combustion.” The same experiment, done by the National Geographic, failed to produce the same results.  Some say that is because they did not close the door, like many of the victims doors were.  Still others have different theories.  Such as Brain J. Ford who writes:

“There is one flammable constituent of the body that can greatly increase in concentration. Triacylglycerol lipids cleave to form fatty acid chains and glycerol. The fatty acids can be used as an alternative source of energy through beta-oxidation, giving rise to the key metabolic molecule acetyl-CoA. This helps drive the energy-producing Krebs cycle within the mitochondria of cells. If the body’s cells are starved (which can occur during chronic illness and even during a workout at the gym), acetyl-CoA in the liver is converted into acetoacetate, which can decarboxylate into acetone. And acetone is highly flammable. A range of conditions can produce ketosis, in which acetone is formed, including alcoholism, high-fat low-carbohydrate dieting, diabetes and even teething.”

 On December 2010, the  completely burned body of a man was found in his home in Clareview Park at Ballybane in the Irish city of Galway). Fire investigators concluded that there were no accelerants were used and that the open fireplace was not the cause of the fire.  Even the coroner in the case could not identify the cause of the death due to extensive internal organ damage. He concluded, “This fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation.

Although there are many theories, experiments, there is even an eyewitness account, Spontaneous Human Combustion remains one of those things that are difficult to duplicate and even more difficult to explain. While experts like to tell us how the body burned, they are at odds of the actually methods.   The possibility that it is a true and real thing is remote.  Our bodies are mostly water and aside from the fat and methane gas, there is not much to us that burns easily. There is much evidence that says perhaps SHC is the results of elderly and otherfenomeno-extrano-combustion-espontanea-hombre-muere-incinerado-irlanda_1_1_893132 wise impaired individuals who have passed out or fell asleep while smoking and ignited themselves. The Wick effect explains the rest.

“Danny Vanzandt, a 57-year-old man, is believed to have died of spontaneous human combustion, according to Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Ron Lockhart, who spoke to 5News.At around 10:50 Monday morning, emergency crews responded to a home after a neighbor reported smoke coming from the house. Police found what they thought to be “just trash that was burning on the kitchen floor.” It turned out that it was a body, deceased, and badly burned. But police were baffled to find there was no fire damage to the furniture or anywhere else in the house, and no signs of a struggle. Sheriff Lockhart, when asked if he was serious about his suspicions that this may be a case of spontaneous human combustion, affirmed that he was. Even though “there’s only about 200 cases worldwide,” he said, they “haven’t ruled it out. The victim was an alcoholic and smoker, and his body has been sent to the medical examiner in Tulsa. In a phone interview with 5News, available here, Lockhart said the body was burned in a way that makes an accident, such as dropping a cigarette on himself, or the fact that he was often drunk and thus probably highly flammable, not possible.”    Hallie Goldman for, Feb 19, 2013