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Spontaneous Human Combustion: Combustion of the Entire Body: 21st Century Cases

Cases of spontaneous human combustion in the 21st century in which the entire body was consumed by the fire.

Oklahoma, 2013, Danny Vanzandt

Ireland, 2011, Michael Faherty

India, 2013, Rahul

Germany, 2015, woman

England, 2017, John Nolan

Oklahoma, 2013:

Sheriff Says Spontaneous Human Combustion Killed Local Man

Sheriff Ron Lockhart says his office is investigating whether a Sequoyah County, Okla., man died after spontaneously bursting into flames. “This is a case that I’ve never seen before,” Lockhart said. The sheriff said 65-year-old Danny Vanzandt’s death might be a rare case of spontaneous human combustion. Lockhart said he knows that suggestion might seem far-fetched, but he believes the evidence backs up his claim. Emergency crews responded to Bawkin Road in Sequoyah County about 10:50 a.m. Monday (Feb. 18) after a neighbor told police she saw smoke coming from next door, Lockhart said. Vanzandt’s brother, Aaron, tells 5NEWS he and his stepson found the body around 11 a.m. and called 911. “The body was burned and it was incinerated,” said Lockhart. Fire crews on the scene discovered a badly burned man dead in the kitchen, Lockhart said. Asked if he was serious that this might be a case of spontaneous human combustion, the sheriff said he is serious, adding no items or furniture around the body were burned. There was no other fire damage to the house and no signs of a struggle, Lockhart said. “I think there’s only about 200 cases worldwide,” said Lockhart. Family members said they noticed the back window of the man’s pickup truck was busted out. The body of the man was sent to the medical examiner’s office in Tulsa, Lockhart said. Authorities are still investigating the incident. Lockhart said Vanzandt was an alcoholic and an avid smoker. “If you read about spontaneous human combustion, that’s what we have here,” Lockhart said. 5NEWS conducted a recorded five-minute interview with Lockhart in which the sheriff explains why he believes spontaneous human combustion is to blame for Vanzandt’s bizarre death. When asked whether the man could have accidentally killed himself by another cause, such as dropping a cigarette onto himself, Lockhart said the body was burned in such a way as to make it inconsistent with such accidents. Vanzandt’s brother said the family has not finalized funeral arrangements yet.

Source: 5News, 02.18.2013

Same case from another source:

Okla. puzzle: Possible death by spontaneous combustion Michael Winter, USA

Medical examiner will determine how a 65-year-old man burned to death without any other structural damage to the home except the floor where he lay. Story Highlights Man's body was incinerated except for his head, hands and feet He may have burned for 10 hours Sheriff said he was an alcoholic and a smoker Oklahoma authorities say it may be two months before they determine whether a 65-year-old man's mysterious death was the result of spontaneous combustion or some other cause. Family members said they found the burned remains of 65-year-old Danny VanZandt on Monday morning in his home near Muldrow, in eastern Oklahoma, near the Arkansas border. His body was incinerated except for his head, hands and feet. The only structural damage was to the kitchen floor where VanZandt lay, said Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart. "This house is intact. There is a stove and ice box within 3 feet from where the body's burning and the handles are not melted," he told The Tulsa World. "You could pour gasoline on somebody and he wouldn't be as badly incinerated." Homicide has been ruled out because there was no evidence of foul play. VanZandt was an alcoholic and a smoker, the sheriff told KFSM-TV. A lighter was found nearby, but there was no evidence of any accelerant on the body. VanZandt may have burned for 10 hours, Lockart said. "We wasn't saying the guy just busted into flames," he told KFSM. He said perhaps VanZandt lighted a cigarette "and catches himself on fire, sucks the flames down his throat, and falls down." Burn marks were found in his windpipe, indicating he inhaled smoke and carbon monoxide. Lockart, a former arson investigator, said the way the body burned was inconsistent with a lighted cigarette being dropped. "This is a case that I've never seen before," Lockhart said. "I think there's only about 200 cases worldwide and I'm not saying that this has happened, I'm just saying that we haven't ruled it out." The state medical examiner is conducting additional toxicology tests. Spontaneous human combustion is a rare and controversial phenomenon. In September 2011, a coroner in Ireland ruled that a 76-year-old man's death in December 2010 was the result of spontaneous human combustion.

Source: USA Today, 02.21.2013


Ireland, 2011:

Michael Faherty

Man died by spontaneous combustion

An Irish pensioner found burnt to death at his home died from spontaneous human combustion, an inquest has concluded. The West Galway coroner, Ciaran McLoughlin, said there was no other adequate explanation for the death of Michael Faherty, 76, also known as Micheal O Fatharta. He said it was the first time in his 25 years as a coroner that he had returned such a verdict. A police crime scene investigator and a senior fire officer told the inquest in Galway they could not explain how Mr Faherty burnt to death. Both said they had not come across such a set of circumstances before. The assistant chief fire officer, Gerry O'Malley, said fire officers were satisfied that an open fire in Mr Faherty's fireplace had not been the cause of the blaze. No trace of an accelerant was found at the scene, and there was no sign that anyone else had entered or left the house in Ballybane, Galway city. The inquest heard that a smoke alarm in the home of Faherty's neighbour Tom Mannion had gone off about 3am on December 22 last year. Mr Mannion said he went outside and saw heavy smoke coming from Mr Faherty's house. He banged on the front door but got no response, and then banged on the door of another neighbour. Police and the fire brigade arrived quickly at the scene. Officer Gerard O'Callaghan said he went to the house after the fire had been extinguished and found Mr Faherty lying on his back in a sitting room, with his head closest to the fireplace. The rest of the house had sustained only smoke damage. Mr O'Callaghan told the coroner that the only damage was to Mr Faherty's remains, the floor under him and the ceiling above. The inquest heard that fire officers had been unable to determine the cause or the origin of the fire. The state pathologist, Professor Grace Callagy, noted in her post-mortem findings that Mr Faherty had type 2 diabetes and hypertension, but concluded he had not died from heart failure. His body had been extensively burnt and, because of the extensive damage to the organs, it was not possible to determine the cause of death. The coroner said: "This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation."

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 09.26.2011

India, 2013:

We didn’t start the fire

By Dhamini Ratnam

Rahul’s mother Rajeswari attempted suicide because her neighbours had begun to suggest that her baby was possessed Gladwin Emmanuel A 2.5-month-old infant has caught fire 'spontaneously' four times. Mirror goes to Chennai to track the story. Fitted with tubes in a bed at the paediatric intensive care unit of Kilpauk Medical College Hospital in Chennai, two and a half-month-old K Rahul kicks his legs in the air, and turns his head away from the flashing cameras. He doesn't seem interested in all the attention he is receiving from reporters and curious onlookers, who've come to meet the boy who caught fire — reportedly — on his own. Nearly everyone in the general ward, where Rahul has been admitted since August 8, is talking in hushed tones about the burn marks on his head, chest and thighs. The doctors have termed it a "rarest of rare condition". Since admission, he has been under 24-hour observation by a team of four doctors from the burns, skin, psychiatric and paediatric departments. He will be here for at least another week. Which is just as well — spontaneous human combustion (SCH) is a highly contested phenomenon. On one side are believers who set store by the word 'spontaneous,' assuming that the human body can go up in flames in a rapid, inexplicable manner. There are 200 such cases reported across the world in the past three centuries. On the other side are rationalists, who point out that there is always an external cause that leads to the fire, because it is scientifically impossible for the human body to self-combust. In the middle of this debate is Rahul's Dalit family of daily wage workers who have little money left to pay for the infant's treatment, and are facing double discrimination by family and neighbours on account of the unfortunate events. The boy's story Rahul was born in Nedimozhiyanur in Viluppuram - the hometown of his mother 23-year-old Rajeshwari - on May 22. On the ninth day of his birth, Rahul 'went up in flames' the first time. Rajeswari says she heard his cries and ran into the house, where she saw the cotton cloth covering his abdomen, on fire. She put out the flames and called an ambulance, which took him to the Mundiyampakkam government medical college hospital. After a week, his burns healed and he was discharged. A few days later, his stomach, thighs and legs suffered 'spontaneous' burns. This time, Rahul's father, 26-year-old P Karna was home. He rushed him to the primary health care centre, where he was treated with burn medicine, silver sulphadiazine. Their thatched roof hut was also partially damaged in the fire. The neighbours called the fire department, and the fire tender from Tindivanam was rushed to the spot. Chief fireman P Jayabalan, who received the call at 1.30 pm on June 29, says, "The house was partially damaged. We were told then that a child had burst into flames." After spending a fortnight at the government hospital, the trio went to Karna's home in Kumalampattu, Viluppuram district. Here Karna and Rajeshwari live with his parents, younger brother, sister and their two-year-old daughter, Narmada. After Rahul burned a third time on July 31, Karna's parents refused to let the child live with them. So, the trio shifted into a relative's house near Pondicherry. In the first week of August, Rahul caught fire again. He was taken to the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education in Pondicherry. With modern science 'failing', his parents took him to a Kali temple in Brahmadesam, where they stayed for a few days. District officials arranged for Rahul's treatment in Kilpauk Hospital, where he was admitted 10 days ago. The mystery of why Since admission, Rahul has already undergone a battery of tests: an X-ray, an ultrasound of his skull, blood analysis for toxic substances, a radiological examination, sweat test, metabolic screening of urine and blood, renal and liver function tests, electrocardiography, skeletal survey, genetic test, molecular study, and abdomen, neurography and tandem mass spectrometry. Luckily, his organs and bones are not damaged, and results have led doctors to conclude that Rahul has not suffered any child abuse. Dr R Narayana Babu, head of the paediatrics department, who is treating Rahul says with characteristic medical caution, "We don't have too much information or textbook details about spontaneous human combustion. There is no treatment for this condition." The condition 'This condition', however, is itself under the scanner. One of the theories put forward by Dr Babu is that the child produced combustible gases that led to his spontaneous burning up. On Thursday, they conducted a test to see if the child was producing combustible gases. "No feasible amount of methane or ethanol gas emission from Rahul's body has been found," Dr Babu says. President of the Federation of Rationalist Associations of India Narendra Nayak explains why. Gases like methane are produced in the gastro intestinal tract due to the breakdown of cellulose, the Mangalore-based professor of biochemistry points out. However, a child being breast-fed is unlikely to have any in his diet, since cellulose comes from plants. Even if a combustible gas from the body gets ignited, the burns wouldn't be surface wounds, argues Nayak. He has seen at least a dozen cases of SCH and each was found to be caused by an external spark. "Chemicals that burn 'spontaneously' are readily available. For example, potassium permanganate and glycerine mixed in the right proportion can burst into flames, as can metallic sodium when it comes in contact with air." Treating Rahul Rahul's doctors say he must be kept away from sunlight and other heat-producing environments, like the kitchen, stay hydrated and wear natural clothing. Dr V Jayaraman, former chief of plastic surgery of Kilpauk Medical College Hospital has asked Karna to move to Chennai. "The child should be in an air-conditioned room and luckily there are people who are willing to help the family." Karna adds that the Viluppuram district collector V Sampath has assured the family that he will allot a house under J Jayalalithaa's government's solar-power housing scheme meant for the underprivileged. Yet, the parents feel helpless. "We've been running from hospitals to temples in a bid to save our child," says Karna, who hasn't been to work in the last three months, has pledged his wife's jewellery and borrowed from money lenders to sustain his family. "All the officials are grilling us as if it is we who have committed some crime," adds Rajeswari.

Source: MumbaiMirror, 08.18.2013


Germany, 2015

German woman fights for life after 'spontaneously combusting' while sitting on a park bench

It must have been terrible scenes that took place on Monday evening at about 6.45 pm on a playground in Schwarzental. People who walked by had seen a woman on a bench suddenly burn up in flames.

Details on the case were announced by the Flensburg Attorney General Ulrike Stahlmann-Liebelt on Tuesday afternoon. According to him, the victim is a woman from Mauritius who has been living in Flensburg for some time. She was in her mid-40s, and in now in a critical condition. She will continue to be treated at the special burn injuries clinic in Lübeck, says Stahlmann-Liebelt.

The prosecution continues to investigate in all directions - even if they are now more likely to assume a "suicide". Several residents had watched the incident on Monday night. A man reacted with the presence of mind, took off his jacket and struck down the flames. Others immediately made an emergency call. The rescue center sent an ambulance to the site. The police arrived with a large contingent. With life-threatening injuries, the woman was first brought to the emergency room of the Diako in Flensburg. On Monday evening she was then transferred to Lübeck to a special clinic. Eyewitnesses had reported that no screams had been heard. One woman mentioned that shortly before the fire, two men were seen in the playground, who quickly disappeared. Because of this statement, the prosecutor's office is still investigating furtehr.

Source: Flensburger Tageblatt, November 03, 2015

England 2017


Man dies after bursting into flames in unexplained circumstances in London street

A pensioner has died of his injuries after bursting into flames in unexplained circumstances in a London street. Police are appealing for information on the blaze that killed 70-year-old John Nolan, a retired construction worker originally from Ireland. Emergency services were called to reports of a “man ablaze” near his home in Haringey on 17 September.

Horrified members of the public tried to put the fire out and alerted police but the flames were not extinguished until firefighters arrived on the scene.  Mr Nolan was taken to a specialist hospital by air ambulance but died of severe burns, with an inquest due to open in March. The London Fire Brigade investigated the cause of the fire but found no evidence of an “accelerant” that would have spread the flames.

Police have now taken charge of the investigation but have made no arrests, with Mr Nolan’s death being treated as unexplained. The investigating officer, PC Damien Ait-Amer, said: “We have spoken with a number of witnesses who saw Mr Nolan ablaze, but we have yet to establish how the fire started.

“Mr Nolan was a well-liked member of the community and none of our enquiries so far have indicated that he had been involved in a dispute of any sort.  “Nor does any account given by witnesses suggest that he had been in contact with another person at the time of the fire.”

Source: The Independent, December 15, 2017