A coroner has ruled that Irish man Michael Flaherty, 76, died of spontaneous combustion. The ruling is believed to be the first in Ireland’s history.
Michael Flaherty died on December 22nd 2010 at his home in Galway. He was found extremely badly burnt in the sitting room of his house, but investigators could not explain the fire. The fireplace was deemed not to be involved, and no accelerant had been used. There was nothing to suggest foul play.
The fire was entirely contained to the sitting room. The only other damage to the room was to the floor immediately beneath him and the ceiling immediately above him. The coroner investigating the case was therefore forced to conclude that Flaherty had died of spontaneous combustion, noting that there was no satisfactory explanation for his this might have happened.
Is spontaneous combustion real?
There is much debate over spontaneous human combustion, and whether or not the phenomenon is real. There have been hundreds of thousands of alleged cases over the years around the world, but few have been thoroughly investigated. But while cigarettes are often blamed for many of the examples of spontaneous combustion, in a handful of cases no rational explanation can be found.
One of the defining characteristics of spontaneous combustion is that the body is extremely badly burnt while the surrounding area is virtually untouched. This appears to have been the case with Michael Flaherty, and is an unusual and often inexplicable feature. It is also often the case that lower limbs are left undamaged, with the feet often being completely unburnt.
A popular theory is that some people suffer a kind of ‘wick effect’, which means that a small external ignition source ignites subcutaneous fat, which is then absorbed into the clothing. While most experts are not agreed on the idea that there can be enough fat to cause massive fires, a similar phenomenon has been recreated with pig fat.