This subject came up in casual conversation. Is there really such a thing as spontaneous human combustion?
-- A.V., Golden Hill
Like, if we survive Y2K maybe there's still a chance we'll be sitting in a lounge chair watching the Super Bowl and we'll burst into flames? Jeez, it's always something, isn't it? Well, maybe you just need a quick scan of the family room by one of those feng shui experts. Could be there's a spot for the lounge chair where the ancient vibes are less incendiary. Anyway, I gotta go with the science guys on this one. Several forensics experts have looked into the lurid tales of old ladies reduced to ash, and all can be explained with more ordinary if less amusing stories. Most of them involve old folks with limited mobility, cigarettes, and alcohol. None of the SHC victims have burned from the inside out, so the ignition point was on the clothes or surface of the body. A lightning strike would be a better guess than spontaneous human combustion. And it doesn't take thousands of degrees of heat to burn a body to ash, as most SHC stories claim. These people were cooked at a lower temp for a long period of time. Body fat liquefies, and if it soaks into clothing, that might sustain the fire. One favorite example of SHC involves a woman who was found dead on her hearth. It takes a true believer to ignore the logical connection between a fireplace and a burned body. One SHC investigator theorizes there is a subatomic particle in our cells that he calls a pyroton that can automatically light our fire. But how nice to sit in your cube, replaying the tape in which your boss vanishes in a big ball of spontaneous fire.