Spontaneous Human Combustion

Have you ever heard of spontaneous human combustion? This phenomenon have been in a hot debate for decades due to its unexplained nature. Is it just fiction that most people thought can really happen in real life?

Most people who don’t believe in SPH, say that it is just a usual accident that caught people on fire, which could have been prevented through safety measures. Some experts believe that smoking cigarettes or a lit candle can trigger the ignition within the body, which is the most logical cause for SPH.

To learn more about spontaneous human combustion, we will take a deeper look into its characteristics, history, possible causes and suggested explanation on why this type of incident occurs in humans. Read on.

What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

Spontaneous Human Combustion is the alleged burning of a human body without any external source of ignition. The severity of combustion may occur in simple skin burns or complete incineration of the body.

This phenomenon can happen to anyone, mostly in adults. As of this time, there have been more than 300 cases of SPH all over the world since 1400s.

Since its intriguing nature, dozens of hypothesis or studies were conducted in an attempt to explain every aspects of spontaneous human combustion. Because it is questionable and unexplained, people classified it as part of supernatural, paranormal or has to do with religion or faith.

A sample passage in the Bible that many thought to be associated with SPH is Numbers 11:1 that says:

Now the people became as men having something evil to complain about in the ears of Jehovah. When Jehovah got to hear it, then his anger grew hot, and a fire of Jehovah began to blaze against them and to consume some in the extremity of the camp.

Other based their theories on intestinal conversion of food into methane by methanogens. When methane is released out of the skin, it can be ignited by an external source such as electricity and many others.

Some people based their observations on the amount of alcohol consumption, which is believed that it can cause spontaneous ignition. Most cases of spontaneous human combustion occurred in an isolated areas, when people are alone in a car or inside their room. Some traces of alcohol and used cigarettes are found in some cases of SPH, which led to this theory.

Others relate SPH to unintentional accidents, external sources of ignitiion (cigarette lighting) and lifestyle factors (smoking, not consuming adequate levels of water).

History of Spontaneous Human Combustion

spontaneous human combustionThe first case of SPH was recorded way back in the 1400s in the name of Polonus Vorsitius. He was an Italian knight who likes to drink wine a lot. History tells us that Polonus consumed a very strong wine called “two ladles” and it suddenly caused him to vomit flames, then the flames consumed his entire body.

A notable case was a 73-year old man named Henry Thomas of South Wales in 1980. His body was found completely burned in the living room of his house. His entire body was incinerated, leaving just his skull and a portion of each leg below the knee.

Officers concluded that his demise was due to the wick effect, a death by burning which he reportedly inhaled the contents of his own combustion.

In 2010, Michael Faherty of Ireland was reportedly died from spontaneous combustion by the coroner. This is the first time that a specific accident was concluded as a result of human spontaneous combustion, which was mainly due to the coroner’s insinuation that there are no adequate explanation to the incident.

The latest case just occurred last month, August of this year, when a two and a half-months old infant names Rahul of India, was admitted to Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital for having constant burn injuries since birth. The medical tests ruled out the possibility of spontaneous human combustion and there are also no health abnormalities found with the infant.

Characteristics of Spontaneous Human Combustion

Objections or debates if a certain incident of human combustion is considered as a SPH, typically refers or depends on the degree of burn of the body and its corresponding surroundings. Usual identifications are the level of burn suffered by the entire body, or part of it such as the arms or legs while the remaining parts are undamaged.

Literally, the death of a human through fire without an external source, is just a theory that happened for a number of unexplained cases. These cases can come from a well-documented report or just mere fictions or hearsay.

In general, a death by fire can be considered as spontaneous human combustion if it presents the following characteristics:

  • A complete or incomplete burned body, while the surroundings are exposed to high temperatures but the damage is limited to the victim, floor area, ceiling or furniture where the corpse died
  • The focus of the fire is the torso
  • No traces of fire accelerant and the fire does not have identifiable external source
  • The combustion happens simultaneously throughout the parts of the body, without no point of origin
  • The victim is typically alone at the time of death and is believed to be alive at the time when the fire started
  • No signs of struggles or foul play. There is also no signs of suicide.

Theories of Spontaneous Human Combustion

There are a dozen of theories on the true causes of SPH. Most cases shows common attributes that can be considered as logical explanations. While these remains as inconclusive beliefs, lets take a look at some of the known theories about spontaneous human combustion.


Since the first recorded case of SPH, many of which are known alcoholics. Certain levels of alcohol can be flammable but not to the extent that a body can ignite on its own. There are studies that shows human flesh, when combined with alcohol, will not burn as similar to various SPH cases.

Brian Ford, an investigator of SPH, suggested that alcoholism or low-carb dieting can cause the body to become flammable through ketosis. Still, you need to have an external source to be able to make any ignition.

Flammable Body Fat

A theory that most people believes to be obvious – the human fat. Deposits of flammable body fat can be a good reason why spontaneous human combustion occurs. This belief could have been an easy answer to the mystery, however, there are cases of SPH with non-overweight individuals which made this explanation a theory.

Divine Intervention

As aforementioned earlier, people tends to turn their attention to faith, especially when a phenomenon without logical explanation occurs. Some religion, mostly Christians, believe that SPH is a type of punishment from God or a reward from the sins of the victims.

Static Electricity

Buildup of static electricity inside the body or from an external geomagnetic force is another theory of the origin of spontaneous human combustion.

Larry Arnold, a self-proclaimed expert of SPH, has suggested that the phenomenon is caused by a new subatomic particle called pyroton, which he claims to have a powerful reaction with cells that results to mini-explosion inside the body.

However, the rest of his claims remains inconclusive and are not accepted in both medical and science community.


Methane is a flammable gas the is commonly produced when plants decompose. Methane is also naturally produced inside the body, particularly inside the intestines. The theory is that, these methane gas can be ignited through enzymes (from a poor diet), a proteins inside the boy that functions as a catalysts to speed up chemical reactions.

However, most cases of SPH shows external burns and fire that initially coming from the inside is quite impossible.

Some other theories includes electrical fields within the human body, lifestyle factors, accidents and many others. Until now, these explanations remains a theories and spontaneous human combustion remains an unsolved mystery.

The Wick Effect

The most logical theory about spontaneous human combustion that most experts accept is the “wick effect“. What is this wick effect and how it works?

The wick effect describes the human body as an inside-out candle, which can be lit by any types of external source such as a cigarette. A candle which is primarily made of a wick on the inside and surrounded by a wax that is made of flammable fatty acids.

The wax help the wick to constantly burning, which makes a candle lit, giving light to its surroundings. In a similar way, the human body fat acts as a flammable substance, while the victims clothing or hair acts as the wick.

The heat melts the body fat and it soaks into the clothing and acts like a wax, which keeps the burning in a wick-like fashion. This is the reason why most victim’s bodies are completely burned and yet the surrounding area are not damaged. See the images below from HowStuffWorks.com.

wick effect stage 1

wick effect stage 2

wick effect stage 3

How about the unburned feet or hands of SPH victims? This can be explained by looking to the idea of temperature gradient environment. A spontaneous human combustion is similar to a match with the flame at the top. You hold the match and let the top area burn while the bottom of the match will not get burn.

The idea? The top portion of the body (in this case the top area of a match) is much hotter compared to the bottom. Because of the hotter temperature, the flame will go out naturally as it climbs down to the cooler area of the legs and feet. This is the reason why most victim’s feet are the only remains of an SPH attack.

Finally, the greasy stains on the walls and ceilings after a spontaneous combustion is explained as the residues of the victim’s burned fatty tissues.

The wick effect may be the closest and most logical explanation to spontaneous human combustion mystery. However, it is still inconclusively proven especially those who believes in other theories. Plus, other cases shows different characteristics which makes SPH difficult to understand.

Spontaneous Human Combustion Summary

Spontaneous human combustion is an unknown phenomena which can possibly caused by a poor healthy lifestyle such as alcohol adiction, unhealthy diet and of course, being overweight and having too much fat.

You don’t have to worry about SPH as it is unlikely to happen to you. But to make sure that you are 100% out of risk, apply a very healthy and active lifestyle without any bad vices such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

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New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

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Noah Mark Rodolfo

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