Authorities investigating the unusual death of an Oklahoma man have determined that the man was not murdered, but they have not ruled out spontaneous human combustion as a cause of death.
Some scientists believe that spontaneous combustion does exist, although it is considered a rare phenomenon. In September of 2011, an Irish coroner ruled that 76-year-old Michael Faherty died of spontaneous human combustion. Although burn marks were found immediately above and below Faherty’s badly burned body, no evidence of any type of accelerant could be found and the fire was contained to the immediate vicinity of the nearly incinerated body. Ciaran McLoughlin, the coroner who made the spontaneous combustion report, said:
“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."Discovery News says in order for an item to combust, there must be a source of ignition and fuel for a fire. Victims of spontaneous combustion are often smokers or where near a open flames such as a fireplace or candle. Alcohol abuse is also a factor in many cases of spontaneous combustion, either because it causes the victims to "pass out" or sleep soundly, or because alcohol itself is flammable.
Sixty-five-year-old Danny VanZandt, a known smoker and heavy drinker, was found dead in his Muldrow, OK. home on Monday. His body was transported to the state medical examiner’s office in Tulsa so an autopsy could be performed. On Wednesday, the preliminary autopsy results were released to law enforcement officials. After receiving the results, Sheriff Ron Lockhart said burn marks were found in VanZandt’s trachea. He continued by saying he has ruled out homicide, but he can not rule out spontaneous human combustion, telling KSLA:"There was no damage to the furniture or anything around the fire, so it was a low heat fire, [but] the body was burned and it was incinerated."
Lockhart continued by saying it appears as if VanZandt’s body burned for around10 hours. He went to tell KFSM:
“We [aren’t] saying the guy just busted into flames, you know there’s [be] an ignition source and that’s what we’re looking at is an ignition source such as lighting a cigarette and catches himself on fire, sucks the flames down his throat, and falls down.”
The sheriff added that there are only about 200 cases of spontaneous human combustion in the world.
Authorities say that the only portion of the body that was not incinerated was the hands and feet. Structural damage was contained to the area just above and below the body. The plastic handles on the ice box, located less than three feet away from the body, showed no signs of melting.
Joanne Sellars, a spokeswoman for the Fire Marshall’s office, said the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.
Lockhart, who is a former arson investigator with the Fort Smith (Ark.) Police Department, said:
“You could pour gasoline on somebody and he wouldn't be as badly incinerated.”