Oklahoma Sheriff surprised by fire victim, considers spontaneous human combustion (UPDATE: not spontaneous)

Another case proposed for SHC but is there a basis for it?

Oklahoma Man Dies In Fire, Spontaneous Combustion Not Ruled Out  - Tulsa, OK – KOTV.com.

The Sheriff in an eastern Oklahoma county said his office is investigating what could be a case of spontaneous combustion.

Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart told News On 6 that deputies were called to a house on Bawcom Road, between Sallisaw and Muldrow, around 10:50 a.m. Monday. A neighbor had reported seeing smoke coming out of a home.

Lockhart said they found the nearly completely charred remains of a man in the kitchen, but that there was no other damage done to the home.

The sheriff said he’s never seen anything like it and is not ruling out spontaneous combustion. But why rule it in? There’s not been a explanation for how SHC (spontaneous human combustion) COULD occur let alone that it does occur. Note this in the piece, the victim was a 65 year old man who was an alcoholic and a smoker. Those are COMMON traits for these cases. It’s irresponsible to posit such an extreme explanation when they have not done an investigation. This kind of “headline” promotes the idea of SHC as real. People only remember the vague suggestion, not the final result.

spontaneous human combustion (SHC) – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

Many of the modern SHC stories have originated with police and fire investigators who have been perplexed by partially burned corpses near unburned rugs or furniture. They are completely baffled as to how a body could burn down to ashes except for a leg or a foot, while the rest of the room avoids being consumed by the flames.

See also:

Spontaneous Human Combustion – Skeptoid
Spontaneous Human Nonsense – CSI
Not-So-Spontaneous Human Combustion – CSI

UPDATE: This latest report focuses on the fact that the man was a heavy drinker and smoker and had poor hygiene. They have appeared to rule out the “spontaneous” part and are looking into the source of ignition.

However, this story continues to be headlined in a way highly suggestive of SHC.

Tip: Fortean Times

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  17 comments for “Oklahoma Sheriff surprised by fire victim, considers spontaneous human combustion (UPDATE: not spontaneous)

  1. February 19, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    I am guessing these officials have never seen some college drinking videos where some frat member accidentally sets his hand or face ablaze due to a fire topped shot of alcohol? Unless the furniture and carpets are covered in alcohol, it’s not surprising to see those materials untouched by the flames.

  2. RDW
    February 19, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    Heat rising can create air flow that feeds the flame, smoldering, without causing anything nearby to reach a combustible temperature. Although it is creepy and bizarre, it isn’t inexplicable.

  3. February 19, 2013 at 11:06 PM

    The tricky thing about dismissing these cases as “just some poor slob who spilled alcohol on himself and it caught fire” is that, as you can test for yourself, alcohol will burn itself off rather quickly… sometimes even before catching what’s beneath it on fire. You might singe off all the hair on your body, but not turn into a great ball of fire reducing your whole body to cinders.

    Though we call it “spontaneous”, all we really know is that it’s human combustion. The wick effect doesn’t always explain the speed of the fire (since some cases were only a short time, say 30 minutes or so). It’s an extremely odd occurrence, but I’m not prepared to dismiss it because it’s a misnomer. If we can get to the bottom of its exact cause, there are hundreds of crematoriums out there who would love to save on their fuel bills by exploiting the phenomenon.

  4. Tepi
    February 19, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    I saw this story in two “lead-in” news commercials and then watched the broadcast. I sent a letter to the news director to Fox23 News in Tulsa and told him he should recant the story and explain the myth to the public. His response was “Thanks for writing. In this story, we’re only reporting what the local authorities in Sequoyah County believe happened.” What I really want to know is… will they do a story about vampires if i have puncture marks on my neck.

  5. February 19, 2013 at 11:16 PM

    First, being a smoker and heavy drinker are NOT “common traits” among victims of SHC-type fires. Maybe u have read of only a few cases where that applied; u culd not make that claim if u had studied the 500-some cases that we have of this incredibly rare – and obviously heatedly rebuked – enigma.

    Second, Sheriff Lockhart is not being irresponsible to suggest SHC may be the cause of death in this fire fatality; he suggests it, as any open-minded fire professional should, based on the anomaly of the fire scene that confronted him and a general knowledge of fire scenes that historically have been termed Spontaneous Human Combustion.

    Third, at the time we post this, nothing is available on the internet that we have found to allow definitive statements/conclusions as to exactly what happened in the victim’s home in Muldrow OK on 2/18/2013. Be doubtful, fine; don’t be close-minded.

    Fourth, of course “something” causes people to infrequently be reduced more thoroughly than crematory retorts normally do, in environs devoid of significant – certainly expected – heat/flame damage; but until open and full investigations are done, that “something” will forever elude both science and medicine. Attributing these extreme fires to drunken-sots-dropping-cigarettes-on-themselves achieves nothing beyond smugness and perpetuating ignorance.

  6. Chew
    February 20, 2013 at 12:22 AM

    Ken, no one said the alcohol spilled and caught fire.

  7. Bob
    February 20, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    Actually, the “sot hypothesis” does do something–it explains the facts without resorting to mystery mongering. Further, the alcohol component is not an accelerant in this formula. It’s usually a reason that someone was incapable of extinguishing a fire that they have set.

    Sherrif Lockhart is in fact being a complete herp-derp, but to be fair he’s likely thinking out loud in front of cameras.

  8. One Eyed Jack
    February 20, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    I give you Larry Arnold, frequent guest of AM Coast to Coast.

    “Larry Arnold was trained in the methodology of science with an undergraduate major in mechanical engineering. He later worked for the private-sector in electrical engineering. Larry developed a burgeoning fascination with human consciousness potential and undertook a new province of study: the unexplained.

    In 1976 he founded ParaScience International. As director of PSI, he combines his scientific background with investigating and describing the intriguing world of forteana – those unconventional subjects and weird events that fail to find acceptance, let alone explanation, within the boundaries of today’s science. Larry is internationally recognized for his pioneering research in spontaneous human combustion. ” http://www.coasttocoastam.com/guest/arnold-larry/5632

    Anyone familiar with the show should take that Bio as cautionary, not an endorsement.

  9. February 20, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    Larry:

    Thank you for commenting. No offense, but I’m having a hard time taking seriously the reply with misspellings and shortcuts. We have a strong moderation policy and I only left this through because I know of your work.

    I have heard MANY of the most famous cases that involved an obvious source of ignition – cigarette or fireplace. And in several cases it was said that alcohol or drugs were involved (example, sleeping pills). Now, that certainly is questionable since I’m hearing these third or fourth hand.

    Yes, the Sheriff IS being irresponsible. There has never been a confirmed case of SHC and we have no mechanism. Just because he can not figure out how this happened (argument from ignorance), there is no logic in proposed an unknown (SHC) as an option. At some point, he may resort to saying ‘I don’t know’ but since we have no way of documenting that SHC happens, it can’t be an option.

    You are correct that in no way can we know the pertinent details of the situation. And we probably won’t because that stuff doesn’t come out in the media. Our goal at Doubtful News is to point out the errors and pertinent questions that remain. One of these errors is to suggest the cause was SHC. What do you think the reader will remember? He will now associated this “mystery” with a case of SHC when that has IN NO WAY been confirmed at all. That is a form of closed mindedness. I’d like to find out the true explanation but most people will just take away the bits they remember and consider it a fact.

    I agree that something very curious is going on and I totally would love to see an explanation. But we may not get one. I still do not agree that justifies proposing that humans spontaneously burn. That makes no sense as of now. But each case is different. Right now, I observe that many cases with possibly unique causes are being lumped under a “mystery umbrella” of SHC and that is not valid.

  10. One Eyed Jack
    February 20, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    Larry Arnold writes:

    ” Sheriff Lockhart is not being irresponsible to suggest SHC may be the cause of death in this fire fatality; he suggests it, as any open-minded fire professional should, based on the anomaly of the fire scene that confronted him and a general knowledge of fire scenes that historically have been termed Spontaneous Human Combustion. ”

    Yes, he is being irresponsible. In the absence of evidence, his response should simply be “We don’t know.” An absence of evidence that points to a known cause is not reason to put forth an unproven phenomenon. As a public official, his opinion carries weight, so he should only provide conclusions backed by solid evidence.

    “at the time we post this, nothing is available on the internet that we have found to allow definitive statements/conclusions as to exactly what happened in the victim’s home in Muldrow OK on 2/18/2013. Be doubtful, fine; don’t be close-minded.”

    Exactly my point. Without evidence, the default stance should be “under investigation” not baseless speculation.

    “Attributing these extreme fires to drunken-sots-dropping-cigarettes-on-themselves achieves nothing beyond smugness and perpetuating ignorance.”

    Agreed, but attributing them to an unproven and unlikely phenomenon is equally unproductive.

    The most responsible position is to continue investigation. If a cause cannot be determined, then the case is left unsolved. Simply filing the unknown with SHC is irresponsible.

  11. One Eyed Jack
    February 20, 2013 at 8:46 AM

    Jinx. Buy me a coke.

    • February 20, 2013 at 8:54 AM

      Geez, we double-teamed him.

  12. February 20, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    The victim was found in a kitchen – was there a heat source in there?

  13. February 20, 2013 at 9:02 AM

    Doesn’t the human body produce acetone if it is highly alcoholic?
    I thought this was the standard explanation. Ketosis.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcoholic_ketoacidosis

  14. One Eyed Jack
    February 20, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    The levels of acetone produced by the human body (even in extreme cases) is not enough to become flammable.

  15. February 21, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    Larry,
    I’d suggest that the Wick Effect (http://www.skepdic.com/shc.html) is still a more than plausible explanation of what may have occurred here (although given the lack of detail, certainly not be the only one)

    Whilst none here can claim to know anything other than the rudimentary details of what occurred, it does appear to match some of the previous cases that have been put forward as SHC.

    Usually alone for some hours prior to the event
    Often known to use alcohol or drugs that can cause unconsciousness
    Often in poor health or elderly
    Often near an ignition source or are a known smoker

    In short, a situation where the individual involved appears to havel had a higher than normal chance that they were either unconscious or dead at the time of the event and the local conditions were such that a slow burning flame could exist.

    I’d also suggest that most of the more reliable literature I’ve read, has taken the approach that yes, there is certainly an unusual phenomenon occurring and as such, investigators have made several honest attempts to determine a possible cause.

    The only real arguments I’ve seen are those between investigators who put forward the somewhat mundane Wick Effect as a potential cause and those who demand a more supernatural or exotic answer.

    Rather than taking the scientific approach and attempting to disprove the Wick hypothesis (or to put forward a plausible alternative), the supporters of SHC simply appear to refuse to accept the hypothesis entirely and to then suggest that there is something far more complex behind the events which will “forever elude both science and medicine”.

    Given your claim to have a data set of 500 SHC cases, surely there is sufficient detail within to allow you put forward a position that is more than an argument from incredulity or ignorance. The existence of sufficient data to be able to refute one hypothesis is usually sufficient to support the proposal of an alternative.

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