September 25, 2011

First Spontaneous Combustion Death Reported In Ireland

An Irish coroner has ruled that a 76-year-old man who burned to death last December was a victim of spontaneous combustion, according to BBC News reports on Friday.

Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin, the coroner of West Galway, said that the death of Michael Faherty was the first case of spontaneous combustion he had ever seen. Faherty died at his home in Clareview Park, Ballybane, on December 22, 2010, and according to the British news agency, "investigators had been baffled as to the cause of Mr. Faherty's death."

"Forensic experts found that a fire in the fireplace of the sitting room where the badly burnt body was found, had not been the cause of the blaze that killed Mr. Faherty," the BBC said in a September 23 report. "The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there had been nothing to suggest foul play."

Furthermore, the court was told that Faherty had been found on his back, with his head close to an open fireplace. The only things damaged by the fire were his body, which the BBC described as "totally burnt," the floor beneath him and the ceiling above him.

"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," McLoughlin told the UK media outlet.

While the idea of spontaneous combustion is not a new one, it largely has been the stuff of myths and legends. However, according to Lucy Burton of the Telegraph, in 1998, forensic scientists believed that the discovered a possible reason why such an event might occur.

According to Burton, the BBC program QED "brought together the world´s top fire experts to investigate the alleged 'wick effect'. The team used a dead pig wrapped in cloth to test the idea that a body can be devoured by flames from its own body fat."

"The scientists found that clothing can soak up melted fat and act like the wick of a candle, leaving surrounding materials unharmed," she added. "This would explain one of the key characteristics of SHC deaths -- the victim's furniture is usually left untouched."

The Daily Mail reports that this is believed to be the first reported fatality as a result of spontaneous human combustion in the history of Ireland. The newspaper added that Faherty's daughter, Mairin, accepted the results of the investigation and was "satisfied" by the findings.


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