Police believe a man may have died from spontaneous combustion after they found his burned body in his home but no other fire damage or evidence of accelerant use.
Sequoyah County authorities are determining the circumstances surrounding the death of 65-year-old Danny Vanzandt after his charred remains were found at his Tulsa home on Monday. After neighbors saw smoke coming from the house they called the fire service and attempted to put out what they thought was a pile of burning trash.
They soon realized it was in fact a body.
Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart said: 'This is very bizarre. You’re thinking someone poured something on him, but there was no fire source.
'The body was burned and it was incinerated. I think there is only about 200 cases (of spontaneous combustion) worldwide. I'm not saying this is what it is, but I haven't ruled it out.'
Sheriff Lockhart spent about 20 years as an arson investigator for the Fort Smith, Arkansas Police Department, and said he had never seen anything like it.
The floor below the 65-year-old was not damaged and there was no sign that any accelerant was used.
Authorities said the man had a history of heavy drinking and smoking, according to Tulsa World. But Lockhart said the way his body was burned was inconsistent with an accidental fire - such as from a cigarette dropping.
The sidebar to the Daily Mail story 'AN INSIDE OUT CANDLE': HOW THE HUMAN BODY CAN SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST
There have been a number of documented cases where police have found corpses burned almost to ashes but no burned furniture around them.Posted by Jill Fallon at February 19, 2013 8:31 PM | Permalink
Temperatures of 3,000 degrees would be required to burn a human body to this extent, yet in these cases only smoke damage is reported.
Puzzled scientists have come up with the ‘wick theory’ to explain such events. The theory is that the human body can become an ‘inside out’ candle.
The person’s clothes are the wick, while their body fat is the wax or flammable substance, that keeps the blaze going. Limbs may be left intact because of the temperature gradient, with the bottom half of the body being cooler than the top.A grisly aside is that greasy stains left after such an event could be a residue for the person’s body fat.
The combustion would not be ‘spontaneous’ however, because it would need an external source to start it off, such as a cigarette. Some have postulated that static electricity could cause the needed spark.
A body would take around five hours to burn in this way to ashes. Victims are often elderly, sick, or under the influence of alcohol, which might explain why they would not have been able to escape.
Charles Dickens provides a very graphic depiction of the death of the shopkeeper Mr Krook by spontaneous combustion in his 1852 novel Bleak House, where the author does away with the alcoholic rag-and-bone man Krook by making him mysteriously burst into flames.
Dickens had done his research: in the 1850s, the main theory used to explain these occurrences was alcohol — that, if you drank enough, it seeped into your skin and made it possible to catch alight if you brushed past a flame.