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Spontaneous Human Combustion

September 21, 2010

The Claims:

The term Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) is often used to describe alleged cases where human bodies have been found burned without an apparent source of ignition. In many of these cases the burn patterns around the victim are close to the body with little or no burns outside the body and the clothing. The apparently absent ignition source has caused many to claim supernatural explanations such as ghosts, evil spirits, devils or aliens.

The Evidence:

There is no evidence available that the human body or any other animal body have ever ignited and burned spontaneously, despite far flung theories such as overactive mithochondria.

It is much more likely that the victims where dead ahead of the burning and the mere proximity to an ignition source made it possible for a body to burn in a way similar to that reported.

Studies with pork bodies have shown evidence for the so called “Wick-effect”. The wick-effect is when a dead clothed body gets ignited with a source such as a cigarette. The cigarette will burn through the clothing and ignite the skin thereby melting the subcutaneous fat and using that as a fuel source and the clothing as a wick, similar to how a candle burns. This type of fire would burn very slowly and with relatively low heat, explaining the burn patterns around the victims.


Deaths that appear to be “spontaneous human combustion” can be explained scientifically. There is no reason to invoke supernatural explanations when there are natural ones readily available.


Wikipedia Page on Spontaneous Human Combustion

The Skeptic’s Dictionary on SHC


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Noah permalink
    April 6, 2012 9:42 PM

    Hey GME what show was that and what episode?

  2. Wood Dennis permalink
    April 27, 2011 8:38 PM

    I have studied SHC in detail and have concluded that, although the phenomenon is unexplained thus far, the wick effect has been ruled out due to the fact that the slow-burning and relatively low temperatures of this reaction fail to completely incinerate a human body, as has been the cited in many documented SHC cases with the exception of the occasional appendage. Even modern day crematoriums often have difficulties acheiving the feat of complete incineration of the thicker human bones. Also the temperatures required to do so would combust the victims surroundings, which is not cited in SHC case files. One case, in fact, cites that newspapers within 2 feet of the victim were unscathed.

  3. February 14, 2011 6:06 PM

    SHC indeed does not exist. I watched an hour-long documentary on PBS which did a fantastic job of explaining the wick effect. In it, the pig carcass experiment was recreated successfully, so I can attest that this myth has indeed been busted.

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