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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Supernatural Sunday - Spontaneous Human Combustion

UPDATE:- On 23rd September 2011, it was reported that a death in Ireland was ruled as death as SHC - the link to the BBC report is here.  To my knowledge this is the first time a verdict like this has been officially recorded in modern records at least - if there are others please let me know in the comments. The coroner must have balls of pure titanium, because as expected, this is generating a lot of controversy.

The skeptics in this case are unbelievably annoying. Guys - just because it doesn't fit in with your beliefs/world view doesn't make it wrong. The outrage expressed puts you on pretty much the same playing field as people who believe everything about religion, the right wing press and paranormal activity being generated by lizard people.

While there is obviously a lot of speculation and comment flying around the internet, and the skeptics are having absolute hysterics, let's keep in mind that this was a real person, with a real family and friends, who lost his life in a pretty unpleasant way - whether a genuine case of SHC or not. Our first concern should be for those left behind, who are probably having to relive the whole business once more and no doubt wishing everyone would drop it. My sincere sympathy to the family and friends of the victim.
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Spontaneous Human Combustion - SHC - tends to awe fans of the paranormal, and seriously piss off the sceptics.  I'm avoiding pictures in this as they are pretty damn gory. There is a good chance that there are still family members out there; and I don't think they need these pics rubbed in their faces should they stumble over this blog.

SHC fires are characterized by there being little damage to surrounding furniture, and in cases where the victim was sleeping, minimal charring to the bedclothes. There is no obvious ignition  point or cause of fire.
A strong smell is  described, along with yellow streaks (often found to be body fat) along walls and ceilings once the fire dies down. The flames described by witnesses vary in colour from yellow to blue.
Usually what is left of the victim amounts to extremities such as hands, feet, shrunken skulls, and melted fat.

The incidents appear to occur in almost any location, from a dance floor, school, bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, cars and outdoor clearings.

There is a range of sex, nationality and age - the oldest victim appears to have been in his 90's, the youngest less than 6 months old.

Dickens did a lot to bring the phenomenon into the public eye, using it to kill off a character in Bleak House.

There are claims to SHC that go back earlier than Dickens; in 1673 one poor soul in Paris was consumed while she lay on a bed of straw. Other famous cases include Countess Cornelia di Bandi, of Cesena in 1731, and Nicole Millet, an  innkeepers wife in 1725. The latter case was remarkable as the innkeeper was placed on trial for murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. The conviction was overturned due to the evidence given by a physician, Claude-Nicolas Le Cat, who convinced the court that the fire was not natural but a visitation from God.

More recent cases have occurred across the globe, from Norfolk, England, on July 29th, 1938 when the unfortunate woman erupted in flames in front of her husband and children, to Hawaii where Mr Young Sik Kim was discovered in flames by his neighbor in December 1956.

People who claim to have survived SHC are usually mystified as to the cause of the burns they receive, but are positive they did nothing to cause them.

Sceptics have claimed everything from victims falling asleep while smoking (at the age of under 6 months? Not including the non-smokers here, who may have decided to experiment after decades of not smoking, I have my doubts that any kid starts smoking in their crib), the "wick effect" which involves rolling up a body in something like a cloth cocoon and setting fire to it (pretty much discounted in the case of, well, everyone, since they appeared to be normally dressed at the time of the incident) and ball lightning. Ball Lightning seems to be the favored explanation for a lot of paranormal events by sceptics. Just saying.

A number of authorities in the past have blamed alcohol consumption, combined with smoking. Coroners have refused to accept the evidence of witnesses, in effect forcing them to change their stories, and I have no doubt that there are a few fire officials who got raked over the coals (pun intended) over daring to to mention the possibility. Sadly, shoe horning the facts to fit the preconceived ideas of what is possible has probably resulted in tainted evidence and loss of pertinent facts here.

The only thing certain in cases of reported SHC is that nobody knows for sure what causes, or triggers it. Scary stuff, by anyone's standards.

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J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues.
You can find WolfSong on Amazon, Sony  e-bookstore, Nook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords