Investigators in London were baffled by the mysterious case of a 70-year-old man who suddenly burst into flames in front of horrified onlookers on a busy London street. Pedestrians looked on in horror as they saw John Nolan burst into flames in Orchard Place, north London. Some people tried in vain to put the fire out. John Nolan was an unmarried retired construction worker from Ireland and was airlifted to a hospital in Essex but unfortunately died the next day. His body was 65 percent covered in third-degree burns.
Spontaneous combustion is a very rare phenomenon that has yet to be understood fully. There have been numerous cases throughout history that baffle people still to this day.
According to Daily Mail:
London Fire Brigade specialist investigators were unable to find anything at the scene that would have sparked a fire. No property or anyone else was harmed in the blaze. Detectives are appealing for witnesses to come forward, to try to explain how Mr. Nolan came to catch flames.
Met Police officer PC Damien Ait-Amer, the investigating officer on the case said: ‘We have spoken with a number of witnesses who saw Mr. Nolan ablaze, but we have yet to establish how the fire started.
‘Mr. Nolan was a well-liked member of the community and none of our inquiries so far have indicated that he had been involved in a dispute of any sort.
‘Nor does any account given by witnesses suggest that he had been in contact with another person at the time of the fire.’
Mr. Nolan followed his sister Mary to London in the 1960s and were later joined by their other three siblings. He had been living in a few streets away from where he died in Tottenham. A post-mortem examination gave his cause of death as severe burns. His inquest will open at Barnet Coroner’s Court on March 13 next year.
No arrests were made in connection with his death, which happened on September 17 and it is still being treated as unexplained. At the time, his family told the Irish Post of their heartbreak. His brother-in-law Tom Byrne said: ‘John wouldn’t hurt so much as a butterfly.
‘In fact, he’d find a way to bring the butterfly home and care for it. He was a gentleman who would do anything you asked of him.’
He was described by neighbors as ‘gentleman’ and a ‘truly lovely man’. Anyone who witnessed the incident but has yet to speak with police is urged to call PC Damien Ait-Amer via 101. You can also tweet information to police via @MetCC.
According to Wikipedia:
Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) is a term encompassing reported cases of the combustion of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without an apparent external source of ignition. In addition to reported cases, examples of the phenomenon appear in literature, and both types have been observed to share common characteristics, regarding circumstances and remains of the victim.
Forensic investigations have attempted to analyze reported instances of SHC and have resulted in hypotheses regarding potential causes and mechanisms, including victim behavior and habits, alcohol consumption and proximity to potential sources of ignition, as well as the behavior of fires that consume melted fats. Natural explanations, as well as unverified natural phenomena, have been proposed to explain reports of SHC. Current scientific consensus is that most, and perhaps all, cases of SHC involve overlooked external sources of ignition.
Some hypothesis attempt to explain how SHC might occur without an external flame source, while other hypotheses suggest incidents that might appear as spontaneous combustion actually had an external source of ignition – and that the likelihood of spontaneous human combustion without an external ignition source is quite low. Benjamin Radford, science writer and deputy editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer, casts doubt on the plausibility of spontaneous human combustion, “If SHC is a real phenomenon (and not the result of an elderly or infirm person being too close to a flame source), why doesn’t it happen more often? There are 5 billion [The world’s population reached 5 billion in 1987] people in the world, and yet we don’t see reports of people bursting into flame while walking down the street, attending football games, or sipping a coffee at a local Starbucks.” Paranormal researcher Brian Dunning states that SHC stories “are simply the rare cases where a natural death in isolation has been followed by a slow combustion from some nearby source of ignition.” He further suggested that reports of people suddenly aflame should be called “Unsolved deaths by fire”, stating that an unknown cause did not necessarily imply that the fire lacked an external ignition source.