Bizarre mystery: The ‘Spontaneous’ case of ‘Human Combustion’

Can one burn to ashes without any ignition source? Yes, you heard it right! Such a phenomenon exists. We are not talking about any supernatural incidents or paranormal activities (ghosts and dark spirits), but an uncanny medical truth which has perplexed Medical Science since ages.

Our idea is not to scare you, but make you aware of the wide complexity of the human body called Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).The first recorded case of spontaneous human combustion was presented in 1641, and since then over 200 cases have been reported.

What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

It is a strange case in which the human body catches fire without any external sources of ignition but is generated within the human body. 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 recent case of three-month-old Rahul, from Tamil Nadu, India has brought the mysterious condition of SHC. The infant is admitted in the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMCH) in Chennai with 10 degree burn injuries. The mother of Rahul has reportedly told that the baby has suffered four episodes of such spontaneous fire. The last episode was a month back.

Other anecdotes of SHC:

In 1980, a 73-year-old Henry Thomas was found burned to death in the living room of his council house in South Wales. It was reported that his entire body was burnt to ashes leaving only his skull and a portion of each leg below the knee.

Another case was reported in December 2010 in Ireland where Michael Faherty suffered the same fate and the reason cited by the coroner was spontaneous human combustion, for which he had no adequate explanation.

Suggested explanations:

Medical practitioners and researchers around the world have been mulling over the possible suggestions of this bizarre medical condition. Some of which are:

- Methanogens (agents which are present in intestines and convert food into methane) when released through skin pores can catch fire when generated by some other sources.

- Research biologist, Brian J. Ford, has suggested that a phenomenon called ketosis, which is caused by alcoholism or low-carb dieting, produces acetone, which can lead to spontaneous combustion.

- Presence of external source of ignition nearby example lit cigarette or burning candle or a lantern flame.

- Finally, a debated phenomenon in itself called ‘Ball lightning’ has also been cited as a possible cause of spontaneous combustion.


At present there is no concrete evidence available as to how human body can burn itself. But, please don’t relate these cases with evil spirits like that in case of Rahul, where villagers were afraid of the infant, believing he is being haunted by some wicked force.

So, what do you think SHC is? A by-product of some mysterious bodily reaction, an unexplained natural anomaly or something obscurely inexplicable?

Compiled by: Ritu Singh/Shruti Saxena