The mystery of spontaneous human combustion

Official symptoms

Much of the mystery surrounding spontaneous human combustion comes from the fact that, quite simply, it takes a lot of energy to burn a body. According to body burning-experts, it takes somewhere between 1400 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit to cremate a human being — far, far more heat than a match, candle, or cigarette is capable of. And yet, according to both a study cited by the British Medical Journal and a more recent survey from the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, suspected cases of spontaneous human combustion reduce the victim’s body to ash (although, occasionally, the deceased’s hands and feet survive). Even stranger, the victims’ surroundings in these cases are largely unharmed, even if they consist of flammable materials, which seems counter-intuitive given how intense the necessary fires must be.

There are other similarities between SHC cases, too. Alleged spontaneous human combustion victims tend to be elderly, are primarily female, and are often overweight and alcoholic. Their ashes are greasy and emit “very offensive” odors. And then, of course, there’s the real kicker: most of the time, nobody actually sees the victims catch on fire, and there’s never been a credible witness to verify that spontaneous human combustion took place.