Location: A Whilom nimble brain. With 31 million posts.
Funny that the 'expert' seemed convinced there would have to be an external ignition.
I got a book out of the library some 40 years ago. I remember the pictures of the remains. Uggy. But one relative claimed they were sitting looking right at the soon to be deceased when blue flames started coming out of their body. The person did not seem to react, and certainly did not show signs of pain.
Dr McLoughlin said he had consulted medical textbooks and carried out other research in an attempt to find an explanation.
He said Professor Bernard Knight, in his book on forensic pathology, had written about spontaneous combustion and noted that such reported cases were almost always near an open fireplace or chimney.
"This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation," he said.
,, he didn't try very hard in his research then - even wiki has an idea:
The "wick effect" hypothesis suggests that a small external flame source, such as a burning cigarette, chars the clothing of the victim at a location, splitting the skin and releasing subcutaneous fat, which is in turn absorbed into the burned clothing, acting as a wick. This combustion can continue for as long as the fuel is available. This hypothesis has been successfully tested with animal tissue (pig) and is consistent with evidence recovered from cases of human combustion. It is not normally understood that the human body typically has enough stored energy in fat and other chemical stores to fully combust the body. However, human tissue does not hold a flame.[
I saw a TV program where they wrapped a pig in cloth, placed it in a closed shed, lit a bit of the cloth - and over about 12 hours the entire pig (bar a few end bits) was turned to ash, as the fat melted, and wicked up into the cloth sustaining a slow but complete burn. As long as the conditions are right - closed area to prevent too much oxygen spoiling the slow burn required - bob's yer ex-uncle.
I saw a TV program where they wrapped a pig in cloth, placed it in a closed shed, lit a bit of the cloth - and over about 12 hours the entire pig (bar a few end bits) was turned to ash, as the fat melted, and wicked up into the cloth sustaining a slow but complete burn.
What is still mystifying is that these experiments and theories suggest a slow continuous burn rather than a sudden conflagration (as depicted in the scene in the TV version of 'Bleak House' where the Johnnie Vegas character just burst into flames). If the wick effect is correct, as shown in the pig experiment mentioned above, I would have thought even if you were asleep or drunk, you'd be immediately aroused to put the fire out as soon as it started. My guess is that in these cases the victim is already dead from other causes - after all, with little left but ash a proper post-mortem isnt possible to determine the cause of death accurately.