Friday, 23 September 2011

'Fire from heaven'

I was surprised to see in the news today a report of a coroner officially recording a death by 'spontaneous combustion'.

The reason for my surprise was not just that the event occurred, nor even that the coroner had officially recognized this on the basis of the evidence, but that just a couple of days ago I'd been thinking to myself how, in this age of 'modern' reporting and forensic science, you never hear of this happening and that it was therefore a load of old tosh!

A long while ago, I came across a book on the subject with the title of this blog post - Fire from Heaven. Frankly, the cases it reported seemed to me to belong with stories about UFOs - whacky events with scarcely-credible witnesses. Some people might even say it belonged in the same category hinted at in the title - of unlikely biblical 'miracles'.

Yet here we are in 2011 with not only this being the recorded cause of death, but everything about it apparently fitting with the 'tradition' of these cases - an entirely, or almost entirely, burned-up human body, with very little 'colateral' damage to the immediate surroundings.

There's an interesting bit of blogging about it here, including the fact (which I'd forgotten, not that I've read the book) that Charles Dickens describes a case in Bleak House.

Perhaps a little less scepticism on my part is now called for!

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  1. I know it's morbid, but it is really fascinating!

  2. John,
    My late Father once watched a rather scientific program about spontaneous human combustion and was ever thereafter very afraid of it. I have since studied the topic and there are documented and tested cases of how the fat in the human body is able to combust and incinerate the body, but there must be some external source for the initial combustion.

  3. Rev'd John,

    R.M. Bruton beat me to it! His description is in accord with mine. The fact that the Irish gentleman was in front of a fire gives us the clue.

    For years I thought that "spontaneous" suggested a sudden & near explosive event but after reading various learned accounts I began to understand that it was far from this - it was/is a "slow burn" - taking some hours to occur.

    Not a great deal of heat is usually generated a few feet from the body, hence a lack of collateral damage. HTH.

    BTW your assertion, in a much earlier blog, that you sang the school song "every day" at your school - "Here's to old John Roan...etc" is unfortunately a case of mis-remembering, but a nice thought! If I recall correctly it was only about once a term!

    Floreat Roanae!