Over the years, I've read about spontaneous combustion in the news, but now I am wondering if it's possible.


closed as off-topic by David, kmm, De Novo, Chris Nov 22 '18 at 9:06

  • This question does not appear to be about biology within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic. We welcome new users to SE Biology but expect them to read about the site first. The tour explains that this is a "site for biology researchers, academics, and students". This implies a certain standard that unfortunately this question does not reach. $\endgroup$ – David Nov 21 '18 at 10:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Like any community, this one has rules. If you join you are expected to read the rules and abide by them. The community is self-regulating, and requires the votes of five members of sufficient experience before a question is closed. It is generally thought helpful to explain why one has voted in a particular way. I am afraid that it is your response rather than the explanation of my vote that is rude. $\endgroup$ – David Nov 21 '18 at 10:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @WillyA - Do not call people a troll who are trying to guide you through the site's conventions. David's investing time and effort in your question. I concur that the question is underresearched. If you could provide a web-link and explain why you doubt the process of spontaneous combustion that would be helpful. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 21 '18 at 11:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Willy, please stop flagging every comment that you don't like. Secondly, FYI, the diamond behind a name means they're a mod - flagging comments from such a user doesn't make too much sense, as they are the ones handling flags :) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 21 '18 at 12:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AliceD please note that this user may be an attempt to get around a 10 year suspension by this user. The user has asked and had closed and deleted the same question that he was repeatedly posting as willy150. He is also engaging in the same behavior of posting questions on multiple stacks (see the aspiration pneumonia question). $\endgroup$ – De Novo Nov 21 '18 at 17:03

Short answer: No, there is no evidence that this is possible. Reported cases can usually be explained by an external source of ignition (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_human_combustion)

Edit: ok, let's add some more information..

The human body consists mainly of water and is therefore hard to burn. It nevertheless contains burnable material such as fat. Not to forget the easily ignitable hair and of course clothing.

If a body (or its surrounding textiles) is burning long enough, its body fat can liquefy and keep burning even on lower temperatures. This is called the candle effect. Like with a candle, the fire does not easily travel horizontally and can keep the surrounding furniture intact. In many cases, arms and legs remain mostly intact, which is probably due to temperature gradients in the limbs and a lower mass of burnable material.

It is though that in most cases the victims were already dead or unconscious due to e.g. drug intake before their body started burning. Often they were smokers or found in a room with an open fire place, which are possible sources of ignition.

Since victims often were alcoholic, one theory was brought forward that the flammable alcohol was causing an ignition within the body. But to bring the alcohol content of a body to a flammable amount, you would die of intoxication long before that..

This study posted by user1136 also mentions the points made above: https://www.jflmjournal.org/article/S1353-1131(00)90353-5/abstract

Yes, a body can burn. But there is no evidence that it can ignite spontaneously without an external source. There might be a few cases where no source was found, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there (a cigarette fallen onto the clothes would be burned). The media likes to push sensational news on "mystery cases", but that doesn't mean that humans just spontaneously turn into walking torches for no reason.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This reference, published in a reputable journal, confirms what is said in the above answer: I quote from the conclusion "It is now accepted that under certain circumstances, a body can burn by combustion of its own fat with little or no damage to the close surroundings, and that such combustion is never ‘spontaneous’, but is instead ignited by an external source of flame. In some cases the body is found in the hearth of a chimney; ..." $\endgroup$ – user1136 Nov 21 '18 at 12:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ For a reputable report of a possible genuine case, see here $\endgroup$ – user1136 Nov 21 '18 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for your reference - I've cleaned up the chit chat $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 21 '18 at 14:18

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.