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Medicine Idle

Irish Man's Death Ruled Spontaneous Combustion 224

chrb writes "BBC News is reporting that an Irish coroner has ruled that a dead man was killed by spontaneous human combustion. The controversial finding is a first in Irish history. From the article: 'West Galway coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin said it was the first time in 25 years of investigating deaths that he had recorded such a verdict. Michael Faherty, 76, died at his home in Galway on 22 December 2010. Deaths attributed by some to "spontaneous combustion" occur when a living human body is burned without an apparent external source of ignition.'"
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Irish Man's Death Ruled Spontaneous Combustion

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    If the reason isn't found, either the investigators are not good enough, or the science isn't. Otherwise such an "explanation" falls in the realm of witchcraft.

    • Coal,


      I'm sure some other substances must too.... But these DO combust, without source of ignition.
      Infact wikipedia has a nice list : []

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      There are many things that "spontaneously combust". The classic example is a pile of oily rags in the cellar, but you could also cite Stallman's laptop. Spontaneously doesn't mean without reason, it means without external reason. (And it's not even quite that limited, as, for example, the pile of oily rags needs to be reasonably warm to start with. And oxygen needs to be in the atmosphere. Etc.)

      There are several reported cases of humans "spontaneously combusting". They may not all be fabrications or m

  • by DurendalMac ( 736637 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:49AM (#37512744)
    Fermi claims another life and they pay off the coroner!
  • by SendBot ( 29932 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:53AM (#37512770) Homepage Journal

    I looked into this when I first read about it. Apparently a disproportionate amount of "spontaneous combustion" cases are older people found next to fire places, this man included. I was not able to find details that would rule out an existing fire in the fireplace contributing to the cause, like an absence of ashes. It's speculated that these cases are people who had a stroke or heart attack while warming themselves by the fire, after which a small spark flies out and eventually smolders the entire body.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Indeed, the headline is misleading (shame on you BBC). TFA only mentions that the ruling was simply that he caught fire for some undetermined reason. No one is claiming that people randomly catch fire with no external stimulus.

      Unfortunately this sort of thing is common at the BBC now. They have a nasty habit of picking one or two words that someone said and quoting them out of context in a headline.

      • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @04:44AM (#37513158) Journal

        No one is claiming that people randomly catch fire with no external stimulus.

        And neither is the BBC. - The coroner brought down the verdict of "spontaneous combustion" that appears in the headline and the BBC correctly defined what that means in the context of a coroner's inquest. They quote the coroner as saying - "This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation."

        Indeed, the headline is misleading (shame on you BBC)

        There's nothing misleading about it, unless of course you're looking for an imaginary excuse to bash the BBC.

        Unfortunately this sort of thing is common at the BBC now. They have a nasty habit...

        Oh, my mistake, you were looking for an imaginary excuse to bash the BBC, carry on.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Oh, my mistake, you were looking for an imaginary excuse to bash the BBC, carry on.

          Hay, I am a fan of the BBC. I still think their news reporting is the best in the UK, but there are clear instances where they fell short IMHO. I documented a recent case, but unfortunately forgot to grab a screen shot. This is the article in question:

          Toyota recalls 110,000 hybrid cars on safety concerns []

          It has been fixed since I complained, but previously it had the sub heading 'Full Blown Crisis' and right underneath it the sentence "The good news is, they are not allowing it to become a full-blown crisis"

          • You made the bald assertion this particular headline was misleading - so far you have not put any hair on that assertion. So lets break it up to see what we can find...

            'First Irish case' - Unattributed quote not discussed in TFA, it's a bald assertion, the reason it's in quotes is to indicate it is not the BBC who are claiming it as fact.

            of death - He's dead, an unfortunate fact.

            by spontaneous combustion - That was the coroner's official finding as to the cause of death, a sensational fact, but st
      • by mr1911 ( 1942298 )

        They have a nasty habit of picking one or two words that someone said and quoting them out of context in a headline.

        The hell you say. Not in the news media.

    • Considering the damage reported (substantial damage to both the floor around and the ceiling above the body) I wouldn't call it smoldering.

      Yet spontaneous combustion... no I don't believe that either. A more likely explanation would be that the person had a lot of clothing on (elderly people are very good at feeling cold and putting on lots and lots of clothing - the person in question was sitting close to a fireplace so good chance he was feeling cold) that happened to be highly combustible and for whatev

      • by mike2R ( 721965 )

        I actually thought this had been resolved a while back - maybe I just heard of a theory and took it for fact.

        As I understand it, what happens is that someone dies/falls into a deep coma with a source of ignition nearby (eg they are smoking at the time, or near an open fire). The human body then burns very slowly over many hours as kind of an inside-out candle - clothing acting as a wick and human fat as the wax.

        This fits with the facts that it tends to be older people living alone, there is little damage t

    • I remember seeing one on TV (so it must be true!@#!1!!!) where the victim was in a bathroom stall. But maybe someone came and flicked a cig on them :p

      • I remember seeing one on TV (so it must be true!@#!1!!!) where the victim was in a bathroom stall. But maybe someone came and flicked a cig on them :p

        Because we all know that no-one smokes in the bathroom stalls. :)

  • by mmmmbeer ( 107215 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:54AM (#37512774)

    The first test of my DeathRay is a complete success! MUAHAHAHAHA!

  • I remember watching a documentary about spontanious human combustion in school during english class (about 20 years ago)..
    Half of the class was spooked because it was such a weird topic..

    I remember they discussed some deaths (showing burn marks on floors, carpets, ..) but scientifically there wasn't any explenation yet..
    Anyone know if there's one now ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As mentioned above, it's often old people lying close to a fireplace.
      the second half is drunk fat people, who don't wake up when their clothes are burning. Their fat melts, and the rest of the clothes functions as a wick, replenishing the fire with more melting fat. Why they don't wake up, maybe they're already dead, but that's pretty hard to establish when there's almost no body.

  • by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @03:00AM (#37512798)
    It happens sometimes. People just explode.

    link [].
  • Hm... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zaldarr ( 2469168 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @03:07AM (#37512820) Homepage
    "The court heard Mr Faherty had been found lying on his back with his head closest to an open fireplace." ... "He said Professor Bernard Knight, in his book on forensic pathology, had written about spontaneous combustion and noted that such reported cases were almost always near an open fireplace or chimney." ... ""There is a source of ignition somewhere, but because the body is so badly destroyed the source can't be found," he said." The obvious solution is that his hair caught on fire; perhaps with some sort of flammable substance in his hair like an aerosol or hair gel and the damage was too great for forensics to pick it up.
  • Cause and Effect (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Intropy ( 2009018 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @03:08AM (#37512828)
    If your job is to figure out what caused something to happen, "I can't figure it out" is not success, but is at least a rational response. "It had no cause" is nonsense.
  • by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @03:13AM (#37512858)

    He's Irish, therefore, he must have been drinking, and he's 76, so was probably taking nitro glycerine for his heart. Mystery solved.

    Now, does that make me a forensic investigator?

  • by Claudix ( 2464776 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @03:21AM (#37512892)
    Lemmings explode after shaking their bodies.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday September 26, 2011 @03:43AM (#37512942) Homepage Journal
    I noticed a lot of people spontaneously combust after being doused in gasoline. Did they check that?

    It'd take an awful lot of energy for a human body to get up to ignition temperatures on its own. Most of the cases in our more superstitious days turned out to have cigarettes as an ignition source. I wouldn't rule out a defective electric blanket. Or pretty much anything that can make a spark around, say a wool blanket. I'm sure there are a lot of avenues of investigation we could follow before we go STAMPEEDING for "Spontaneous Human Combustion", Mr McLoughlin!

    • I'm treating your sig as a confession.
      The Gard are on their way.
    • Not that I buy the concept of "spontaneous human combustion" in any way, but I imagine the investigators probably checked for electric blankets etc.

    • by jimicus ( 737525 )

      ISTR a documentary a few years ago which explored a "human candle" theory - essentially, something on the victim catches fire (maybe their clothing) and the victim - for whatever reason - doesn't put it out. The heat from the fire melts their body fat, which goes on to further fuel the fire. Fat burns quite hot, and in so doing it consumes most of their body; but the absence of other flammable material near the victim means the entire house doesn't go up in smoke.

    • I noticed a lot of people spontaneously combust after being doused in gasoline. Did they check that?

      If you RTFA, you would know that they did.

      The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there had been nothing to suggest foul play.

  • ... and it's a record!

  • So in Ireland, "spontaneous combustion" is just a euphemism for "unexplained combustion?"

  • Is slashdot facing spontaneous combustion as well? I had to use https to load this page - attempts with http failed with the 503 / guru meditation / varnish error.
  • He said he would not use the term spontaneous combustion, as there had to be some source of ignition, possibly a lit match or cigarette.

    "Spontaneous Combustion" was put in as the title of the article, despite the specific denial of that term by the coronor. That's sensationalism in its most basic form.

  • With the amount of possibilities, the fact that they would prefer not invest more time to really figure this out, and would rather just hash it up to spontaneous combustion, is pretty lame. I know 3 ways where you can burn the inside of a body outwards, and of which leaves no marks, but requires that the person have been close to alcohol, strong enough to combust near a flame. Once you have this, you need a catalyst and voila...

    I will not say how, as these would leave me to feel responsible should any indiv

  • I've got a theory, that it's a demon, a dancing demon, no... something isn't right there...

  • ... if a case of spontaneous human ignition were to be found. That would move my reaction from "ignorant Irish" court to "really, how could that happen?". BTW I cooked my oatmeal this morning using the spontaneous combustion of natural gas.

    • by j-beda ( 85386 )

      I suspect that your natural gas fire was not "spontaneous", but rather was started either by a spark or a pilot light.

  • I would be more likely to believe that bigfoot broke into his house and set him on fire.
  • Hmmm... Have we ruled out Blipverts []?

  • Was this one of those serious cases of an MFA, i.e. a Major Fart Alert (that went amok)?

  • ball lightening forming at the same location as a person.

  • by PPH ( 736903 )

    Someone will point a high energy neutrino source at him next week.

  • Has nobody seen Blade here? The man was obviously a vampire.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27