The mystery of spontaneous human combustion

Or maybe it’s something weirder

The wick effect explains most spontaneous human combustion cases, but not all of them. And, as with anything that’s possibly paranormal, there are a number of alternate theories out there.

Some are semi-reasonable. Researcher Brian J. Ford argues that ketosis, a condition in which a glucose-starved body starts feeding on fat, increases the body’s acetone levels. Acetone is flammable, and so ketosis — which is a common symptom of both alcoholism and low-carb diets — makes the person more likely to catch on fire. Meanwhile, a rare drug allergy called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome leaves blisters on its victims that look a lot like burns, although it doesn’t exactly reduce a body to ash.

Other theories aren’t so reasonable. At least one scientist thinks that ball lightning, a largely unexplained scientific phenomenon, might cause SHC. Some paranormal researchers think that SHC might be related to poltergeists, who are often blamed for setting non-sentient objects on fire. In his 1995 book Ablaze!, author Larry E. Arnold — who, as critics note, doesn’t actually have any scientific training — hypothesizes that there are subatomic particles called “pyrotrons” in the human body that, when agitated by stress, make people more likely to burst into flame.

That’s pretty unlikely. But hey, at least “pyrotron” sounds pretty cool.