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J Burn Care Res. 2012 May-Jun;33(3):e101-7. doi: 10.1097/BCR.0b013e318239c5d7.

Spontaneous human combustion in the light of the 21st century.

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Department of Plastic Surgery, Töölö Hospital, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.


The term "spontaneous human combustion" refers to a situation when a human body is found with significant portions of the middle parts of the body reduced to ashes, much less damage to the head and extremities, and minimal damage to the direct surroundings of the body. Typically, no observable source of ignition is found in the vicinity of the victim and a bad smelling oily substance is noted. In the past, such a situation was erroneously attributed to supernatural powers, as such phenomenon occurs in the absence of any witness. The purpose of this review article was to analyze articles published from January 1, 2000, on this unique type of burn injury. Further aims were to gather and present data on the causes and events leading to this situation. The literature was reviewed with PubMed interface using the key words spontaneous human combustion and preternatural combustion. Specific inclusion criteria resulted in 12 patients. A unique sequence of events takes place for the human body to incinerate to ashes. The flame burn victim has to die for the body fat to start melting. A tear in the skin has to occur for the melted fat to impregnate the charred clothes, igniting a wick effect that produces localized heat for extended period. A phenomenon called spontaneous human combustion is reality. The term "spontaneous human combustion" has nuances which are not applicable to this situation or to these modern times, therefore we suggest a new term "fat wick burns."

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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