Spontaneous Human Combustion: Theories and Hypotheses

Spontaneous Human Combustion or SHC is a terrifying and supposedly unexplained phenomenon in which a person suddenly bursts into flames, being consumed within minutes or in some cases, seconds, without an external source of ignition. The fire is believed to originate from within the body cavity (torso) itself.

There are many theories that try to explain this rare and shocking occurrence. One supposition is the “Wick Effect” theory in which a person’s clothing becomes saturated with human fat from the body itself. It then ignites, acting much like a candle wick.

Like anomalien.com on Facebook

To stay in touch & get our latest news

One popular hypothesis is that a body can be charged with static electricity, thus setting the person’s clothing on fire. Another suggestion is a buildup of methane gas in the gut which consumes the victim in a fiery blaze.

Other suggestions propose that certain individuals (mainly middle-aged woman) who are overweight and consume massive amounts of alcohol are subject to SHC, which takes us back to the Wick Theory. One strange and disturbing pattern has been noted in a few cases of SHC when the victims remains were found, their heads had shrunk to the size of a grapefruit.

But some scientists believe it is impossible for the human body to ignite due to the fact that our bodies are made up of fifty to seventy percent water and sixty-five percent Oxygen, depending on the fat percentage of a person.

The tragic end for retired Dr. Irving Bentley in 1966, seems much more
plausible for a case of SHC. His death was mysterious in that when
his cremeated remains were discovered, only one lower leg and slippered
foot remained. Bentley’s body was consumed quite rapidly but his walker
remained intact, along with the rubber tips.

More Theories

Skeptics believe that SHC is no mystery at all but simply something which is easily explained. The following examples are just a few:

Someone falls asleep while smoking in bed and catches fire. A person dies while smoking in bed, drops the cigarette, the bed catches fire and the body is consumed by fire.

In certain rare cases, people are struck by lightening when there are no witnesses around to observe this and it is often mistaken for SHC or in other instances, an individual may be standing too close to a source of ignition and goes up in flames.

Another theory is a person could also be wearing an item of clothing which might be highly charged with static or the fibers used in the clothing are highly flammable, and given the right conditions or circumstances, catch a spark when the victim unknowingly rubs up against something that ignites the clothing on fire.

Another popular supposition is products used by the individual such as hairspray or other flammable substances used on the body which can ignite under the right conditions.

These are just a few suppositions which are attributed to the phenomenon SHC so our mystery is solved. Or is it?

Area of Destruction

In documented true and rare isolated cases of SHC the most interesting aspect of the cases involves the area of damage surrounding the deceased. The fire is contained within one area around the individual without effecting other areas around the blaze. And the fact that the bodies are consumed so quickly is also disturbing and hard to explain.

Most human bodies burn slowly, rather than being incinerated instantly. It all depends on the heat or intensity of a fire surrounding the victim. This is not so in the supposed rare cases of SHC The body is said to explode in flames in a localized area, and burn at extreme temperatures. It consumes the victim rapidly, often only leaving a portion of the victim behind.

In order for a human to burn completely, the temperature of a fire must be between 2500 – 2700 degrees F. to completely turn them to ash. When these victims are found, items, such as magazines, nightstands, clothing, blankets, and other flammables surrounding the deceased are left unscathed.

As an example, a chair in which the person was sitting in was left with little or no damage to it.

In certain cases, there are witnesses who allege they observed a victim suddenly erupt into flames without an outward accelerant present. They maintain the fire started on the skin itself. Unfortunately, these cases were undocumented and there is no way to substantiate their claims.

Tests were done to prove the wick theory as being the answer to SHC in the test that was done, the body of a pig was used. An accelerant was used to start the fire.

Mary H. Reeser fire

The animal’s fat added more fuel to the fire, it took about six hours to incinerate the animal. It was a slow process. When the test was completed, they noticed the fire was limited to one small area, just like in the cases of SHC. These scientists believe they have solved the SHC mystery.

Still there are those that believe Spontaneous Human Combustion cannot be explained and must have a paranormal angle attached to it. Since it cannot be fully explained, there is always room for more conjecture.



So why not the supernatural? Maybe there are secrets that are contained in the human body, mind, and soul that can willfully or unwillfully be demonstrated.

Maybe they are demonstrated on a level that surpasses all understanding. Possibly even one of an unsolicited pyrokinetic level in which the victim is unaware of. Then again, there are some mysteries that will forever be just that. Mysteries.

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply