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Spontaneous Human Combustion

Spontaneous Human Combustion

SHC or Spontaneous human combustion is the reported paranormal burning of the human body without any external ignition source such as a lighter. Over the past 300 years there have been about 200 cases of this paranormal phenomenon. Many people have attempted to explain this strange occurrence. Here have been natural explanations such as the possibility of concentrated gas or perhaps raised levels of blood alcohol causing the SHC. Some say that it might be because someone dropped a cigarette on themselves.

Many still object to the natural explanation of this paranormal phenomenon. They often refer to the amount of burning of the body which doesn’t reflect surrounding which remain undamaged. Sometimes the lower limbs such as the feet aren’t damaged at all. The supernatural explanation of SHC remains although there’s no evidence to support the theory.

There are many cases of SHC that remain unexplained and well-documented. These cases have the following characteristics:

  • The body is completely or almost completely incinerated
  • Nearby furniture which should have burned in a fire is left alone with no damage
  • Damage is limited to the victims clothing, the floor, the furniture they were sitting in, and the ceiling.
  • The torso is the focus of the fire
  • Remains that are found are usually just the feet.
  • There’s no trace of an accelerant to start the fire
  • There’s no external cause of the fire present
  • Victim is alone at time of death and thought to have been living when the fire started
  • There’s no signs of struggle on behalf of the victim


While these burnings have occurred there is still much skepticism and those that are skeptics wonder why this doesn’t happen more often than it does if it’s a paranormal phenomenon. Paranormal researcher Brian Dunning states that SHC stories “are simply the rare cases where a natural death in isolation has been followed by a slow combustion from some nearby source of ignition.” Others are just classified an “unsolved deaths by fire.”

Many hypotheses attempt to explain how SHC might occur but according to those that rely on current scientific understanding, incidents that might appear as spontaneous combustion actually had an external source of ignition – and the likelihood of true spontaneous human combustion is quite low.[3] Benjamin Radford, science writer and deputy editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer, casts

Natural Explanations

These SHC cases seem to involve someone who has low mobility, aged, poor health, or obese. These victims show a high risk of dying in their sleep or not being able to move once they catch fire. A cigarette is often seen as the cause of the fire since the clothing is charred. The sin is split and the fat is absorbed into the clothing and acts as a wick. Heart attacks are another explanation as the victim dies and the cigarette falls or causes them to catch fire. Over time the cigarette would cause the clothing of the victim to catch fire.


John Irving Bentley

“Bentley was last seen alive 4 December 1966, when friends visiting his home wished him good night at about 9 p.m. The following morning, meter reader Don Gosnell let himself into Bentley’s house, as he had permission to do due to Bentley’s infirmity. In the basement he found on the ground was a neat pile of ash, about 35 centimetres in height. The floor underneath the ash was unmarked. He went upstairs and in Mr. Bentley’s bathroom he found he found Bentley’s cremated remains which had burned a hole through the floor to the basement.”

Henry Thomas

“Thomas’ entire body was incinerated, leaving only his skull and a portion of each leg below the knee. The feet and legs were clothed in socks and trouser legs. The fire destroyed half of the chair in which he had been sitting.”

Michael Flaherty

“Flaherty’s body was found lying on his back with his head closest to an open fireplace. The fire had been entirely confined to the sitting room and the only damage found was to the totally burnt body, the ceiling above and the floor beneath him. No traces of any accelerants were found.”

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