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back to article Oklahoma cops rake ashes of 'spontaneous combustion' victim

Investigators in Oklahoma are attempting to determine just how a 65-year-old man was largely incinerated while his timber-framed house suffered minimal damage, in what the the local sheriff described as a possible case of spontaneous human combustion. Danny VanZandt was found burning on the kitchen floor in his home between …

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Paris Hilton

I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

i.e. all the fat in a persons body acting like tallow while clothing acts as a wick?

I remember reading 'The Unexplained' when I was a kid and being completely grossed out by the picture of an SHC victim. Just some legs sticking out of a charred pile.

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Silver badge

Re: I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

Yep, the 'inside out candle' theory. Different materials react differently to temperatures and time- in a crematorium, (high temperature, short duration) steel balls are used to crush the bones, whereas lower temperatures sustained for a longer period can reduce bones to ash.

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Thumb Up

Re: I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

Still got my full set of The Unexplained, perfect condition in binders... and can remember the walking frame and leg sticking out of a burnt floor. May have to dig them for a read...

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Re: I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

Yep, the wick effect is so well documented I'm surprised SHC is still treated as a big mystery.

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Pint

Re: I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

Amazing, it seems that that picture stayed in the minds of everyone who sawit. I can still remember that issue of the Unexplained and the picture itself. Happy memories.

Beer to quench the internal flames

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wick effect'?

So remember to wash your clothes every now and then. Might save your life and will definitely save your neighbours live!

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Re: I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

Wow! That brings back memories of the early 1980s. The Unexplained I should - erm - explain - not having spontananeously combusted myself.

To bring back another raft of memories, didn't QED do this experiment with a pig carcass wrapped in muslin? My memory isn't what it used to be and it's so very long since BBC1 actually did science programming.

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Re: I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

I don't know if it was QED, but yes there was a programme about it where they used a pig to substitute a human. I think the very same photo the rest of the commentators above recall was shown on-screen. I recall the photo, but never read "Unexplained". It may have featueed in Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World too...

Bring back Horizon, QED, and Equinox in all their technical 1970s/80s glory.

I'm off to start a petition.

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Flame

Re: I thought this kind of thing had been explained as a 'wick effect'?

Oh yes, that thought just came to me when I was reading the article too - I was scared out of my wits for ages afterwards!

Flames, well you know why....

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Like other victims of 'spontaneous human combustion', this was an old person who smoked. I'm willing to bet he had health problems, and quite possibly had a drink problem too. The human wick effect is the best explanation I've seen for this phenomenon. Either that, or God has it in for harmless old folk.

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Gold badge

this was an old person who smoked. I'm willing to bet he had health problems, and quite possibly had a drink problem too

So, your theory is that the alcohol basically caught fire through his smoking? Works for me :p

That's probably also a good reason not to cremate alcoholics - the risk of combustion..

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Flame

Nope.

That he passed out after drinking and dropped his ciggy.

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Happy

Wouldn't that make it easier ? :)

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"Dropped a cig" victim

more like.

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FAIL

SHC = I don't know

Surely all their saying is "I don't know what caused this". Pretending SHC is something specific is pretty poor for an official. The pile of SHC cases are part of the Unexplained file. Unexplained does not mean ALIENS or anything like that.

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Re: SHC = I don't know

> Unexplained does not mean ALIENS or anything like that.

But it could be ENORMOUS HEAT generated by a spontaneously nucleating vacuum.

Or politicians.

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Big Brother

Re: SHC = I don't know

So how can we ensure around 650 instances of SHC in the Palace of Westminster?

C'mon, you know it makes sense...

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Re: SHC = I don't know

"So how can we ensure around 650 instances of SHC in the Palace of Westminster?

C'mon, you know it makes sense..."

Awful idea. There are some lovely floors in there it would be a real shame to damage.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: SHC = I don't know

How about 535 cases in the US Congress, both the House of Representatives (435) and the Senate (100)... Then we could start from scratch...

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P_0

From the article

"You get called to the house where there's a body inside, and you expect the house to be burnt down. 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."

Only VanZandt's head, hands and feet survived the fire. Lockhart said of the remains: "You could pour gasoline on somebody and he wouldn't be as badly incinerated."

The wick effect creates a slow, smoldering fire. Not only is the above description consistent with the wick effect, it is entirely expected. And the hands, feet and head, the extremities, don't contain enough fat content to maintain the burning.

In conclusion, why is this even news?

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Facepalm

Because its incredibly rare?

Why it's on the register is a little more questionable... (but I presume its in bootnotes or odds and sods.)

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@P_O

Further, the hands, feet and head are generally not closely covered by material that makes a good wick.

A good question would be: have there been cases of apparent SHC where the victim had well defined, uncovered areas of their body that did not suffer serious burning, or had a different kind of burn pattern to covered areas? e.g. bare forearms or bare lower legs?

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Re: @P_O

Combustion of a "body" has been demonstrated, using a pig carcass dressed in clothes in place of a human body. No mystery.

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Hadn't there been one case where one other aspect of SHC was noted, one which wick effect combustion couldn't handle: speed? It'd be interesting to see one where the verified burn time was too short for wick effect combustion.

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Happy

Register : Was he holding a laptop or smartphone at the time?

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Flame

By any chance

Did anyone see a 1964 Chevy Malibu in the vicinity?

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jai
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Re: By any chance

"the life of a repo man is always intense"

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Re: By any chance

Ohhh..... you don't want to look in there - the 2 hemispheres are fundamentally opposed

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Re: By any chance

Ha ha, best damn car in the yard.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: By any chance

"It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes. "

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Acetone

...might have something to do with it.

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jai
Silver badge

Was there a tv nearby?

There's a well documented cause for SHC:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blipvert

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Is that the quiet buzz ..

... of a DRONE that I hear ... with a FRIGGIN LASER ON ITS HEAD ?

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Joke

The death is easy to explain

What this poor person had done to receive the wrath of the BOFH is harder to find out!

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Did he used to be a drummer ?

Dozens of people spontaneously combust each year, it's not just widely reported

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZrqC5LL_oo

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Devil

It's demoic possession....

And the Hell Fires burned from within.

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Devil

Eek!

It was God wot dun it.

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Holmes

The simplest explanations are usually correct.

Vampire caught out by roller blind malfunction.

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It's Oklahoma so

It's either God or the Devil - the catch-all explanation for anything in the MidWest.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's Oklahoma so

MidEast!

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Coat

Burning Bodies

Not to be overly gross, but didn't the Nazis have quite a bit of experience with burning human bodies? I seem to recall some reports describing how the bodies of fat people should be intermixed with those of skinny people to achieve complete combustion of the corpses. :-(

Dave

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Silver badge

Re: Burning Bodies

Going that far back, we know the Nazis were rather gross, but looking at it strictly from a scientific perspective, the Nazis knew how to run like a well-greased machine. In this case, they knew enough to keep in mind an ideal ratio of tallow (fat) to other body mass.

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Alien

Time to...

... page Fox Mulder.

Can believe no one used the alien icon yet. There, corrected that.

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Paris Hilton

Paris potential?

Considering her "hotness" could she easily combust?

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Paris Hilton

Re: Paris potential?

Wrong kind of "hotness", and not enough body fat for the wick effect...

I'll take her 'hotness' though...

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FAIL

More grist for the ...

Discovery Channel Zombie shows.

Next they will have it recorded live.

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Anonymous Coward

I have a theory

Its a chance mutation in common gut bacteria, which breaks the NADH channel.

This results in sugar being metabolised into simpler sugars and hydrogen , which then spontaneously ignites causing a short lived but devastating (to the victim) fire.

As the heat source is internal the wick effect swiftly takes over, resulting in near complete combustion.

The same effect has been theorised to be the cause of some lithium ion battery fires, however in this case gas being produced by the bacteria as they break down carbon compounds found in the electrolyte eventually ruptures the internal separators and causes a short circuit if it doesen't ignite by itself first.

AC/DC

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I have a theory

Should I leave the whisky for a beer.

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