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Morning Lineup – November 5

 

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Tuesday Morning – How Do Fires Start Spontaneously?

Fire causation is a valid topic for fire/rescue blogs like this one.  It's usually introduced to you in your FF-I class and certainly in recruit schools.  Finding out how they start is basic to learning and keeping fire safety practices for the general population.  What is usually referred to as spontaneous combustion is a sub-topic that is rather nebulous and generally just touched upon.

When you get to "spontaneous human combustion" however, that's a different animal altogether.  That's the one where victims are often found in their bed or sitting in a chair after being completely consumed by a fire that inexplicably never extends beyond the victim's body.  Flesh, clothing, everything but the bones will be gone with maybe a little scorching on the carpet below.  It happens so rarely – perhaps fewer than 200 known incidents ever – that I'm sure none of you have run such a call.

A lot of scientists pooh-pooh the notion of such a possibility, but there are enough documented and otherwise unexplained incidents to keep the cause a viable consideration.  Autopsies usually indicate that the burn pattern originated inside the body and burned outward.  Nobody has been able to yet explain how a fire can start inside the body spontaneously.  Keep in mind that the amount of heat required to fully consume human flesh and organs is so high that crematoriums have difficulty effecting a total consumption.  Yet these SHC fires leave no scorching  or any other damaging, not even to bed sheets, in the area around the victim. A true mystery.  If you want to do a quick brush-up on some examples of the phenomena, then CLICK HERE to read one compilation of ten examples of the event.

What brought this to mind for me was a recent news article that really isn't about the standard SHC event, but what did happen made me think of it.  This one however is reasonably explained.  Scientific research in the UK has presented evidence that the mummified remains of King Tut had at one time spontaneously caught fire and burned inside his sarcophagus.  Not only did they solve the mystery, but the study opened up to them, after all these hundreds of years, how the boy king died and what caused it.

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An article published in USA Today yesterday tells us in part:

The story of King Tut's death just got even more interesting, all thanks to a single piece of flesh.

That remnant of Tutankhamun is the only one of its kind known to exist outside Egypt, and British experts decided to analyze it after stumbling upon a decades-old record by one of the archaeologists who found Tut's tomb in 1922.

But here's the truly intriguing part: The body caught fire after it was sealed in its sarcophagus, essentially "spontaneously combusting," says egyptologist Chris Nauton.

The scientists' theory is that the mummification was bungled and that the body caught fire due to an unfortunate chemical reaction spurred by the combination of oxygen, embalming oils, and linen; the temperature would have reached 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Raw Story adds that the researchers also partnered with a team of car crash investigators whose computer simulations seem to verify the leading theory as to cause of death: a chariot accident. The injuries sustained on one side of his body (as revealed by what the Independent calls a "virtual autopsy") suggest a chariot crashed into Tut while he was on his knees, crushing his heart. Scientists believe Tutankhamun may have fallen from the chariot while hunting.

Fascinating stuff.  I was mostly impressed with the accident reconstruction team's theory.

Well, so much for unexplained fires and fatal accidents.  We get enough of those around here, so let's get ready for the next one and get the equipment checked out.  The Bunn-O-Matic ain't doin' anything spontaneously this morning, so I'll get it started the old fashioned way.  See you back in the day room.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • B.Morgan

    Geezer,

     

    Since the human body is mostly water the burning events you describe to occur to a living or very recently dead person are hard to explain. The mummy can be explained. The laws of physics, thermodyamics and the like can't prevent physical damage to very close flamable material.       Having been a fire investigator I worked the case where a bungled attempt to creamate a unpopular drug gang member by associates resulted in a couple of thousand acre wild fire. His little black book surived and DEA was very happy about that.

    In the end careful, detailed detective work and good forensic science will usually lead to a cause of a fire.  Now the spontanious burning body, never crossed my path. I will have to look into that. Now for that second cup of coffee.