Our Bodies Can Randomly Catch on Fire

Zarella Berrocal

It’s truthfully scary to think that our bodies could randomly ignite without any apparent reason. This may sound more like a nightmare rather than anything else, however, it’s a real life scenario and several cases have been reported over the past 50 years.

Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) is a term describing the combustion of a human body whilst the person is still alive. Furthermore, the paranormal and recently controversial aspect of this theory is the unexplainable nature of each reported case, meaning there is no apparent cause for the fire in any of the cases that have ever been reported. The mystery encompassing each and every case of SHC resides in the uncanny conditions in which each victim is found.

Spontaneous human combustion victims often have unscathed extremities, yet the rest of the body is nearly completely consumed and incinerated. Additionally, while human flesh and bones burn and reduce to ashes at around a temperature of 1000 °C (1800 °F), in every SHC case the room of the victim has little damage from smoke.

19th Century Spontaneous Human Combustion case. Note both lower extremities are intact while the rest of the body has been completely incinerated.


Several cases can be found all throughout the web, yet the most notable one is the case of Mary Reeser in St. Petersburg, Florida, 1951. Reeser was a 67-year-old widow who was a suspected victim of Spontaneous Human Combustion. On the morning of July 2nd, Reeser’s landlady, Pansy Carpenter, arrived with a telegram and tried the door but found it was uncomfortably hot. After asking for help from two workmen, Carpenter broke into Reeser’s apartment and found her remains to be virtually ashes. Her left foot, however, was intact and so was her skull and part of her backbone. The most controversial and abnormal aspect of this case is the final state of Reeser’s skull: it had been reduced to the size of a teacup.

Wilton M. Korgan, a physical anthropologist who investigated Reeser’s case, wrote an article for The General Magazine and History Chronicle of the University of Pennsylvania in which he remarked:

[…]The head is not left complete in ordinary burning cases. Certainly it does not shrivel or symmetrically reduce to a smaller size. In presence of heat sufficient to destroy soft tissues, the skull would literally explode in many pieces. I have never known any exception to this rule.

While many cast doubt on the actual spontaneity of the combustion, as the likelihood of a human body to ignite with no apparent reason is notably low, no concrete explanation has been stated for any of the reported SHC cases, leading many to conclude it as a paranormal event.


Editor: Maria ‘Stefi’ Ticsa