Micro Life Zone
Asked by pnemonoultramicroscopicsillicovolcanoconiosis to Arti, Chris, Dustin, James, Steven on 21 May 2012.
Keywords: combustion, spontaneous
Its likely that spontaneous human combustion doesn’t occur. By definition spontaneous combustion is when something bursts into flames with no spark. This can certainly happen with some materials, however, since we are mostly water instant ignition cannot take place.
So what is happening then?
Well the best explanation that I have read on this topic appears to point to something called the ‘wick effect’. Supposedly the body actually burns very slowly, with the heat causing the fluids to boil off, while melting the skin and fats down that then provide fuel to the process.
While it appears to be the best explanation it doesn’t mean that it is THE explanation. The problem with spontaneous human combustion is that supposed cases are relatively rare, and many of them have other good explanations.
It seems that “spontaneous human combustion” is the label given to these cases when people who appear to have been alone are found burnt and dead, without much damage to their surroundings, and so it looks like the person just caught on fire all by themselves. No one really knows how this phenomenon occurs, but the Wick Effect that Dustin mentioned does seem to be a good explanation for it, where there is an external source of fire such as a cigarette, but then only the body burns, and slowly. There have been over 200 reports of this occurring over the past several hundred years, with a few cases as recently as 2010 (and maybe even more recently than that). Supposedly, several of the victims were quite fat, which might also support the Wick Effect theory (more fat = more fuel for fire)!
Hey pnemo. Spontaneously……
Short answer is that it doesn’t. Wick effects and other phenomena have never been ruled out and are likely to be behind each case. It would be a terrible evolutionary oversight to have an organism that could accidentally burst into flames and it would be a pretty big oversight of clothing manufacturers if they put the wearer in danger of fire simply by wearing the clothes.
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