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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

spontaneous human combustion (SHC) A not-too-well-explained phenomenon in which solitary humans have, in some unknown manner, burned up almost entirely, usually in a closed room, without setting fire to the room beyond a possible hole in the floor, a chair and some nearby furnishings.
      Often, the subject is an alcoholic, usually elderly and smoking, sometimes known to regularly take sleeping pills. It is not difficult to see that such a combination could lead to the person catching fire. Forensic scientists point out that the “candle effect” may be responsible for the dramatically complete burning that often takes place in SHC. This effect is the result of human fat percolating out of a burning body, permeating the clothing and the stuffing of a chair, and thus burning as a giant candle wick.
      Some point to the fact that the room——and house!——do not also burn, but this may be a case of selective reasoning; when the house does burn down, the question does not arise, and that condition is far more likely to exist than the alternate.
      An excellent discussion of this phenomenon is the book of Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer, Secrets of the Supernatural, 1991.

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