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Spontaneous Human Combustion: Partial Burns

Cases of spontaneous human combustion in which the person had only partial burns and survived.

An intense flame on a man's leg, Tennessee, in the 1800's

Baby catches on fire three times, India, 2013

An intense flame on a man's leg:

On Spontaneous Combustion

From an Essay Read at the Last Annual Meeting of the Med. Society of Tennessee JAMES OVERTON, M.D. Boston Med Surg J 1835 (in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Volumes 13-14, 1836)


Ali instance of what has been esteemed partial spontaneous combustion, has recently occurred in the city, of Nashville—it has given origin to the character of this essay—and as its phenomena as detailed by tile subject of it, and its effects as exhibited to the observation of others after its subsidence, are corroborative of the truth of the history just given, we deem it worthy of record, and to he submitted to your present contemplation, in connection with cases of a like character which have occurred at a distance from us.
The subject of the following observation is a gentleman about thirty-five years of age, middle size, light hair, hazel eyes, sanguineo-lymphatic temperament, of habits entirely temperate in the use of stimulating drinks of any kind, fermented or alcoholic, with a constitution considerably enfeebled from long and zealous devotion to the sedentary and exhausting labor of scientific investigation. In early life he was very subject to derangements in the stomach and bowels ; and at the present time suffers frequently from different modifications of these maladies, as costiveness, occasional diarrhea, acidity of the stomach, heart-burn, &c. &c., with their usual train of sympathetic affections, involving parts of the organism at a distance from the primary seats of disease into a participation of their suffering.
At the time of the occurrence of the accident, he was afflicted with acidity of the stomach, and by an unusual and irritating quantity of the matter of urea in tile secretion kidneys; for the relief of which, he was in the habitual use of aperients, ant-acids, &c.
Mr. H., Professor of Mathematics in the University of Nashville, was engaged as usual in his recitation room, in attendance upon the morning exercises of his class, till 11 o'clock in the forenoon. He then buttoned his surtoot coat close around him, and walked briskly thus clothed to his residence, a distance of about three-fourths of a mile, taking exercise enough to produce a glow low of warmth on the surface of his body, without inducing fatigue, but feeling at the same time his usual acidity of the stomach for which he resolved to take some soda as a remedy within a short time. Having arrived at his lodging, he pulled off his over-coat and kindled a fire, by placing a few pieces of dry wood on three burning coals which he found in the fire-place, of the magnitude of two inch cubes each; and immediately left the fire, and retired to a remote part of the room and made his observation, on the weight and temperature of the atmosphere as indicated by the barometer and thermometer, which were suspended in that situation. He then took the dew-point by the thermometer. These operations, together with the registration of their results, occupied about thirty minutes. This having been accomplished, he went immediately into the open air, made observations of the hygrometer, and was beginning his observations upon the velocity and direction of the winds. He had been engaged in this latter process about ten immures, his body all the while sheltered from the direct impression of the wind, when he felt a pain as, if produced by the pulling of a hair, on the left leg, and which amounted in degree to a strong sensation. Upon applying his hand to the spot pained, the sensation suddenly increased, till it amounted in intensity to a feeling resembling the continued sting of a wasp or hornet. He then began to slap the part by repeated strokes with the open hand, during which time the pain continued to increase in intensity, so that he was forced to cry out from the severity of his suffering. Directing his eyes at this moment to the suffering part, he distinctly saw a light flame of the extent at its base of a ten cent piece of coin, with a surface approaching to convexity, somewhat flattened at the top, and having a complexion which nearest resembles that of pure quicksilver. Of the accuracy in this latter feature in the appearance of the flame, Mr. H. is very confident, notwithstanding the unfavorable circumstances amidst which the observation must have been made. As soon as he perceived the flame, he applied over it both his hands open, united at their edges, and closely impacted upon and around the burning surface. These means were employed by Mr. H. for the purpose of extinguishing the flame by the exclusion of the contact of the atmosphere, which he knew was necessary to the continuance of every combustion. The result was in conformity with the design, for the flame immediately went out. As soon as the flame was extinguished, the pain began to abate in intensity, but still continued, and gave the sensation usually the effect of a slight application of heat or fire to the body, which induced him to seize his pantaloons with one of his hands and to pinch them up to a conical form over the injured part of the leg, thereby to remove them from any contact with the skin below. This operation was continued for a minute or two, with a design of extinguishing any combustion that be present in the substance of his apparel, but which was not visible at the time. At the beginning of the accident, the sensation of injury was confined to a spot of small diameter, and in its progress the pain was still restricted to this spot, increasing in intensity and depth to a considerable extent, but without much if any enlargement of the surface which it occupied at the beginning. A warmth was felt to a considerable distance around the spot primarily affected, but the sensation did not by any means amount to the degree of the feeling of pain. This latter sensation was almost, if not entirely, confined to the narrow limits which bounded the seat of the first attack, and this sensation was no otherwise modified during the progress of the accident, than by its increasing intensity and deeper penetration into the muscles of the limb, which at its greatest degree seemed to sink an inch or more into the substance of the leg.
Believing the combustion to have been extinguished by by means just noticed, and the pain having greatly subsided, leaving only the feeling usually the effect of a slight burn, he untied and pulled up his pantaloons and drawers, for the purpose of ascertaining the condition of the part that had been the seat of his suffering. He found a surface on the outer and upper part of his left leg, reaching front the femoral end of the fibula in an oblique direction, towards the upper portion of the grastrochnemii muscles, about three fourths of all inch in width, and three inches in length, denuded of the scarfskin, and this membrane gathered into a roll at the lower edge of the abraded surface. The injury resembled very exactly in appearance an abrasion of the skin of like extent and depth, often the effect of slight mechanical violence, except that the surface of it was extremely dry, and bad a complexion more livid than that of wounds of a similar extent produced by the action of mechanical causes.
The condition of the pantaloons and drawers was next carefully inspected. The left leg of the drawers, at a point exactly corresponding with the part of the leg which had suffered injury, and at a point accurately correspondent, to the abraded surface, were burnt entirely through their substance. They were not in the slightest degree scorched beyond this limit, the combustion appearing to have stopped abruptly, without the least injury to any portion of the drawers which had not been totally consumed by its action. The pantaloons were not burnt at all. But their inner surface opposite to and in contact with  the burnt portion of the drawers, was slightly tinged by a thin frostwork of a dark yellow bile. The material of this color, however, did not penetrate the texture of the pantaloons, which were made of broadcloth, but seemed to rest exclusively upon the extremities of the fibres of wool which were the materials of its fabric. The coloring matter was entirely scraped off with the edge of a penknife, without cutting the woolly fibres, after which there remained upon the garment no perceptible trace of the combustion, with which they had been in contact. The pantaloons may be said, with entire propriety, to have suffered no injury of any kind from the accident. The drawers, which were composed of a mixture of silk and wool, were made tight and close at the ankle, and tied with tape over a pair of thick woolen socks, in such manner as to prevent even the admission of air to the leg through their inferior opening. Considering the injury not to be of a serious character, Mr. H. bestowed upon its treatment no particular care or attention, but pursued his usual avocations within doors and in the open air, which was very cold, until the evening of the succeeding day. At this time the wound became inflamed and painful, and was dressed with a salve, into the composition of which the rosin of turpentine entered in considerable proportion. This treatment was continued for four or five days, during which time the wound presented tile usual aspect of a burn from ordinary causes, except in its greater depth and more tardy progress towards cicatrization, which did not take place till after thirty-two days from the date of the infliction of the injury. The part of the ulcer which healed last, was the point of the inception and intensity of the pain at the time of attack, and which point was evidently the seat of deeper injury than any other portion of the wounded surface.
About the fifth day of the accident, a physician was requested to take charge of the treatment, and the remedies employed were such chiefly as are usual in the treatment of burns from other causes, except that twice a week, the surface of the ulcer was sprinkled over with calomel, and a dressing of simple cerate applied above it. In the space between the wound and the groin there was a considerable soreness of the integuments to the touch, which continued during the greatest violence of the effects of the accident, and then gradually subsided. The cicatrix is at this time, March 24th, entire ; but its surface is unusually scabrous, and has a much more livid aspect than that of similar scars left after the infliction of burns from common causes. The dermis seems to have been less perfectly regenerated than is usual from burns produced by ordinary means, and the circulation through the part is manifestly impeded, apparently in consequence of atony of its vessels, to an extent far beyond anything of a similar nature to be observed after common burns. Since the wound has healed the health of the patient has been as perfect as usual, and while the wound continued open, his ordinary occupations were interrupted by a week's confinement only to his chamber. The accident occurred on the fifth of January of the present year, the day intensely cold and the thermometer standing at only eight degrees above zero, sky clear and calm and the barometrical of the atmosphere being 29.248. Such is the history of the case of partial spontaneous combustion, which has recently occurred in this city. The facts have been stated as nearly as practicable in the words of the sufferer himself, and are consequently entitled to all the credit attributable to any statement of a similar character, which is or can be supplied by the annals of the profusion. The character of the accident bears a striking similitude to the case of partial spontaneous combustion already noticed, and may hence, to future investigators, contribute not unimportant aid in the discussion or the subject which is the object of this essay.
[Some of Dr. O.'s remarks on the causes of spontaneous combustion, will be given in a future number.]

Source: The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Volumes 13-14, page 25-28


Baby catches on fire three times:

Mystery Baby: 3-Month-Old Boy Catches Fire; What is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

The mystery surrounding a two-and-half-month-old boy, who caught fire as many as four times since he was born, is expected to be unraveled when the test results are out on Monday. Rahul, a native of Tindivanam, Tamil Nadu was admitted to Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital on Thursday for burns reportedly caused by a rare medical phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) wherein a person catches fire due to emission of inflammable substances through the body. A series of tests, including sweat, urine and blood have been done to ascertain the cause of the fire and find out if his body contains any inflammable substances. The doctors are also exploring all possibilities including abuse. "The body burns spontaneously due to combustible gases emitting from the patient's body, without any external source of ignition," Dr R Narayana Babu, head of the paediatrics department, Kilpauk Medical College, told Deccan Chronical. "Clothes and other things nearby that are inflammable may also catch fire." 

"An episode may or may not recur. It's like any other burn injury, with the likelihood of scars and secondary infections. Plastic surgery is also expected to be done. The relatives or parents have to always keep an eye on the baby. Matchsticks, crackers or anything that can catch fire should not be kept near him," he added.

Source: International Business Times, 08.12.2013