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Saturday, February 23, 2013

From 1799, a list of risk factors for spontaneous combustion

The list (see below) is part of this rather fascinating Lapham's Quarterly article on alcohol-induced spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC). The article includes accounts of some of the 18th century reports of SHC as well as more details on the relationship between these reports and the Temperance movement. It's also rather fascinating to compare this list to more recent attempts to determine whether the phenomenon is real or possible.

By 1799, there were enough cases on record for one physician, Pierre Lair, to identify some patterns and recurring characteristics of victims of spontaneous human combustion:

1. Victims were older, usually over 60.
2. Victims were overweight.
3. Victims led inactive lives.
4. Victims were alcoholics.
5. Women were more prone to spontaneously combust than men.
6. At the scene there was often an external flame, such as a candle or fireplace.
7. Combustion was extremely rapid.
8. The flames were difficult to extinguish.
9. The flames produced a strong empyreumatic odor.
10. The surrounding room was coated with a thick, yellow, greasy film.
11. The first usually consumed the trunk of the body, but left the head and extremities intact.
12. Accidents occurred during fair weather, and more often in winter than in summer.

Lair also ranked various spirits in terms of their likely contribution to Spontaneous Combustion: gin, followed by brandy, whiskey, and finally, rum.

Via io9.

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