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Last year an Irish coroner made headlines by ruling the death of a pensioner as having been caused by “spontaneous human combustion”. Though there have been reports of the phenomenon for some 500 years, spontaneous combustion has long inhabited the edges of science, with many writing if off as a spurious mystery. Others though have attempted to solve the mystery scientifically, such as research biologist and author Professor Brian J. Ford. In the wake (no pun intended) of the Irish case, last November Ford put forward his own idea as to how SHC occurs, based around a specific medical note in the case:

The cue comes from the coroner’s account of Michael Faherty, who reported that the dead man had been diabetic. Many of the victims of SGC have been obese, and obesity can trigger Type 2 diabetes. The disordered metabolism results in ketone bodies, like acetone; indeed the tell-tale odour on the breath is often indicative of the disorder… It is a highly inflammable gas: as little as 2.6% in air can explode and its flashpoint is -17.8 degrees C. It can also cause flashback, where a trail of methane can lead ignition back to the source. Acetone is miscible with lipids and could surely render body fat – itself combustible – into a highly flammable compound.

In my view, this offers the perfect explanation. A patient experiences ketosis; acetone and its allies form a reserve in teh fatty tissues of the body and collect in gaseous form under the clothing; the patient is thus potentially inflammable. A static spark from fabric or combing the hair could set off fierce combustion. The energy required to trigger an explosion of gaseous hydrocarbons is as little as 0.02mJ, which falls below the threshold of human perception, whereas static sparks from clothing can produce a painful jolt.

The reported cases support my proposal perfectly. Many of the victims have high levels of body fat, which provide the fuel depot and the likelihood of ketosis. The relatively fat-free extremities often survive the conflagration relatively intact, likewise the heart and intestines. The areas that are consumed are centred around the abdomen, which is where primary fat deposits accumulate.

This is a proposal that should now be investigated.

Since that time, Ford himself has done exactly that, as illustrated in the video lecture excerpts above. He took abdominal tissue from pigs and marinated it in acetone, then made scale models of humans from it and dressed them in clothes. Upon lighting, the models burned to ash within 30 minutes, leaving only protruding limbs – a similar facet to actual reports of SHC, as noted by Ford himself.