Monday, April 04, 2016

C Is for Combustion

This month I'm participating in the A to Z ChallengeMy theme this year is Unsolved Mysteries. Today's letter is:



In December of 2010, an Irish man was awoken by the sound of a smoke alarm in the house next door. When the fire brigade arrived, they found 76-year-old Michael Flaherty's body, partly burned, with no visible accelerant nearby.


Michael Flaherty's home
After exhausting all possible other causes, the coroner ruled his death spontaneous combustion.



A similar case happened in 1957. Anna Martin was found in her bedroom, burned except for a small portion of her torso and her shoes. The medical examiner concluded that temperatures of at least 1,700 degrees would have been necessary to do that type of damage. Newspapers only two feet away weren't even scorched.




Spontaneous human combustion is a phenomenon that held more weight in previous centuries. Today's scientific minds refuse to believe someone could simply burst into flames. However, here are a few things that have historically been present with spontaneous combustion cases:
  • Victims are elderly or not very mobile.
  • The fire damage is primarily confined to the victim.
  • Feet and hands are sometimes unaffected by the fire.
  • The damage to the body is far worse than it would be in a normal fire.

Of course, in a science-driven society, experts have worked hard to find an explanation for historical cases of spontaneous human combustion. They've come up with one moderately plausible explanation, called "the wick effect."



With the wick effect, it is believed that the clothing of an immobile human is ignited. When the fire comes into contact with the subcutaneous fat found in the human body, it combines with the clothing to act like the wick of a candle.



This creates the fuel necessary to catch the person on fire. However, in the case of Michael Flaherty, no ignition source was found. He died near a fireplace...but they couldn't find any evidence of a fire in it.



Do you think people can burst into flames without an external source?

⬅️ B Is for Brianna Maitland

72 comments:

  1. I've never bought into it. Unless demonic forces are involved - or maybe they were firestarters and decided it was time to end their life.

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    1. There have been a couple of cases that were hard to explain, but the vast majority were years ago, when crime scene investigations weren't quite as sophisticated as they are now!

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  2. Nope - I think there is most likely a source, it's just that fire destroys so much it is often lost. In historical cases it's quite possible evidence was simply overlooked. The only thing I might believe is that there was some sort of exothermic chemical reaction, but what could cause it I have no idea.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    1. I'm sure the guy in Ireland had the fire lit...they just missed some evidence somehow. Or maybe it was suicide or murder...and they wanted to make it look like spontaneous combustion.

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  3. Something has to be external causing this to happen. You never see this happen to something just walking into store, or at their desk in the middle of the work day.


    These kind of incidents just give crazy people an excuse to blame the devil, or demons, or ghosts, etc. OOGA BOOGA

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    1. That is true--it's almost always been to people who lying down or sitting in a chair, alone at home.

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  4. That's one of those issues that makes you go, well maybe...maybe not. Hard to say one way or the other.

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    1. That's what makes life interesting--all those unknowns.

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  5. A good one Stephanie. That's a baffling mystery even to scientists. Maybe gas and alcohol don't mix. Hugs,
    JB

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  6. It is baffling in the case of Michael Flaherty since there was no source, but who is to say he wasn't set on fire and then his dead body placed in his home? The killer could have then set off the fire alarm by lighting a match under the alarm and then slipping out the back door and into the night!

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    1. Good theory. That definitely could have happened. I'm not sure if the Irish police are quite as good at crime scene investigation as ours...

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  7. I saw something like this on an old episode of CSI. I don't remember what the conclusion to the case was though....

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    1. Perfect subject for a CSI episode, I would think!

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  8. I think there are still a lot of things in the world that science can not explain. This is one of them. At least it hasn't been explained to my satisfaction. I'm sure some day it will be, but until then I still see it as a fascinating unsolved mystery.

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    1. There was a case in one of the Ann Rule books I was reading, but I couldn't find it anywhere...and Ann Rule changes the names in her books to protect the families and such. But police found dinner cooking on the stove, her belongings downstairs, and her locked in the bedroom, burned to death. She was the only thing in the room burned besides the bed beneath her. It sounded like murder to me, but the author tried to spin it as spontaneous combustion at first.

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  9. An exciting mystery but there has to be some sort of scientific explanation for it that they just have not gotten to you. :)

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    1. The wick theory is the best they can do, I guess...people don't smoke inside their homes as much as they used to--I wonder if that wasn't the cause of a lot of the historical cases we see...

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  10. makes for quite a story. I've felt like I've spontaneously combusted, but no real sparks flew. This is an interesting topic

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    1. It gets so hot here in the summertime, I feel like I could!

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    1. The news story about the Irish man is, but older tales are harder to prove because they aren't as easy to verify through news reports.

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  12. I find this fascinating, but wonder how it could be the wick effect if no evidence of what started the fire is around. Unless they were a smoker and the cigarette burned up. Very curious phenomenon.

    TamaraNarayan

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    1. You have to figure there was some fire source that maybe investigators didn't notice?

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  13. I'm not sure either way, but I've always been fascinated by the concept.

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  14. I find the topic interesting, but ultimately, I have to side with science on this one. I find it too unbelievable that this never happens anywhere where there are witnesses. I think it's a case of lack of forensics mostly
    Debbie

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  15. Fascinating! While I believe there are some things we may never explain, this is likely one event that could be; given time and modern technology.

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  16. What a fascinating phenomenon. I'm not even going to try to guess whether or not it is possible. Thought provoking post, Stephanie.

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  17. Love your theme for the A to Z Challenge!!!

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  18. I love coming over here to find out what mystery you're exploring today.

    I hope this isn't a real thing. It freaks me out, but that's what you're going to do all month right.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  19. Certainly an odd case. I wonder if these people were smokers? If the flames got that hot, I would imagine a cigarette would have been burned up beyond recognition.

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  20. What a great topic. So very interesting.

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  21. Spontaneous combustion is not something I know whether to believe in, or not. Science is trying to explain things, but this is one of those things that they really haven't convinced me on.
    Sophie
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

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  22. Interesting topic and question. I really have to think that anything is possible. It is very intriguing for sure! Also, some questions I think are impossible to answer, but my first instinct says...what else could have happened to them?

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  23. Omg I saw this on the ID network one time! I think it's crazy!

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  24. At first I read that as Flatly and assumed he was just doing that Riverdance thing too fast.

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  25. Well this is something I had not though to consider worrying about. Yikes, but how fascinating!

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  26. So intriguing. I like the wicking effect theory. I'd like to believe it's possible to spontaneously burst into flames (certainly as a woman of a certain age, I've felt like I might at times), but science.

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  27. That is scary! I never heard of such a thing!

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  28. How very interesting! I always thought it was just an urban myth, but you've made me rethink this.

    Cheers - Ellen | http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/2016/04/c-is-for-catamaran-nancy-drew.html

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  29. I've had hot flashes that make me wonder if I'm about to burst into flames at any moment... but I doubt this was the case here.

    Mary
    Twitter: @KnottyMarie
    Literary Gold - Free and Bargain priced books
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

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  30. I think it could be possible. The how though is a huge question mark.

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  31. Well, a professor once told me that when I scientist puts forth a theory, they immediately try to disprove it. For one, the more you cannot disprove the theory, the more like it is to be true (as in a fact). And if you do that right away, then your rivals cannot do it (and make you look bad).

    LuAnn (approx #369 on the list) @ Back Porchervations.
    (and one of co-host AJ Lauer's #wHooligans)

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  32. It's funny, but my bf and I were just talking about this. Which probably says weird things about our relationship. :)

    This has always freaked me out...the idea that we could just burst into flame at any minute. Has to be one of the scariest mysteries ever.

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  33. Spontaneous combustion has always freaked me out and fascinated me. Bodies almost totally destroyed, but hands or feet left undamaged. The chair virtually undamaged...

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  34. Such an interesting topic! I'm sure there is a scientific explanation somewhere out there...better than the wick theory presented above. So freaky!
    ~Katie
    TheCyborgMom

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  35. The bodies in question have obviously caught fire, but I don't buy the spontaneous combustion theory. It is bizarre though and I sort of wonder if some of the investigations may have been a little shady at the time (maybe there were clues to the killers or source of the fire and the police and fire fighters turned the other cheek?). Definitely food for thought!
    ~Jess

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  36. Hm... I've never thought about this before but perhaps there's something to that wicking theory...

    Julie Valerie #1613 on the A to Z Challenge list
    http://www.julievalerie.com/thesaurus-tyrannosaurus-c/

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  37. I've watched various shows on this and it still stumps me. I'm in favor of the wick theory, but it would seem that there has to be some source of ignition and often there isn't one.
    Discarded Darlings

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  38. I'm inclined to believe these incidents occurred with sources even if they were not reported or found.

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  39. I've heard of spontaneous combustion. It seems there would have to be another heat sort.

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  40. Very interesting. I've seen weird TV shows that show this, and I've read it in the Bible. Bad way to go...

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  41. Woo, I'm so hot I bet I'll go that way! Note to self. Stop wearing clothing to bed as I get older.

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  42. This is my nightmare! I swear ever since I was a kid and heard about this I have been afraid. I believe!

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  43. Scary! This sounds like some weird science show~ The wick thing seems more plausible~

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  44. Wow, what a concept. I hope it isn't true. The flammable clothing sounds plausible but what about the older cases? Hmmm, I'm thinking I could be flammable myself and better be careful around candles (the subcutaneous fat).

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  45. Spontaneous combustion is a fascinating subject. What's left of the person always leaves so many questions.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

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  46. Eeww! What a horrible way to go. I guess there's nothing a person can do to keep safe. I hope they come up with a solution.

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  47. I have read so many stories of this phenomenon and I still don't know what to think about it. I suppose anything is possible, but is it likely? Hmm.

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  48. So strange! I've heard of the wick effect with spontaneous combustion. It just seems so odd. Thanks for the unsolved mystery.

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  49. I almost burst into flame while arguing with my oldest son once.


    Cherdo
    Cherdo on the Flipside
    "Favorite Characters, Favorite Lines" on the A-to-Z Challenge 2016

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  50. J here, stopping by from the #atozchallenge - where I am part of Arlee Bird's A to Z Ambassador Team.
    April is here and I'm excited about it. Best of luck to us both on meeting our goals of posting and hopping to other blogs.
    My blog has a giveaway. There's a bonus a to z challenge each day to encourage people to visit more stops.

    Don't forget to put your A to Z 2016 badge up on your sidebar.

    Yes, I think spontaneous combustion is real. I've got a fictional character who readers think this phenomenon applies to, but it doesn't. Ha ha. I remember reading a short story in 8th grade that was about this subject, and wondering if it would happen to me. Mostly because I worried that I'd hurt a tree if I caught on fire, as I spent a lot of time in trees.

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  51. I know there is much debate about this subject. As for me, I don't know. How can a human body produce that high tempreature to burn itself?
    I'm incline to think there must be a different explenation. Maybe burns caused by very different events are similar enough that we think they are connected, but they aren't.
    But yeah, it's a very odd phenomenon.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

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  52. I had a professor in college who seemed fascinated by spontaneous combustion, he spent a day in class telling us his thoughts about it.

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  53. I believe this does happen and it's due to some strange and very rare occurrence that can happen in the body that we can't yet explain. One day it will be

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  54. I don't buy it. Something external must cause it, in my opinion. I just think that there isn't enough evidence left to determine the cause. I can see why in the past forensics might not have been able to determine the cause, but with all of the advances we have made in science and forensics, I can't see how today they couldn't determine the cause. When was the last case of alleged spontaneous combustion? I know others have already mentioned these possibilities, but they are both worth noting: (1) Someone murdered the victim and the body was placed there (2) A shady investigation and someone in the chain of the investigation is the culprit; It could be anyone from someone in the fire department to the police department, the evidence collection team, arson investigators, forensic team, medical examiners office etc.. There's a host of suspects who could have tampered with the evidence. Another fascinating unsolved mystery.

    Melissa
    Http://Melissasugarwrites.com

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    1. I'm trying to leave a link to my blog, but it didn't work. I'm gonna try again, for those who don't use blogger/blogspot.

      http://www.melissasugarwrites.com/2016/04/d-dark-web-vs-deep-web-lawless-frontier.html

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  55. I have always found this subject fascinating! Can't help but believe!

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    1. It is hard to believe. There might be other reasons

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