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1827, April 19: M. Dessimont’s Flaming Hands

In 1827, Dr. Richond-des-Brus reported to a French medical journal a strange event that he had encountered. 

        According to the doctor, on April 19, 1827, a Mr. Dessimont, age 24, was staying with his brother when the strange occurrence began. Around 9:30 PM, his brother was amusing himself by burning a bit of sulpher over a candle when he accidentally burned himself and flicked some of the hot sulpher onto his clothing. His coat caught fire, and Dessimont immediately leaped up to help, successfully suffocating the flames by squeezing the clothing in his hands. His brother escaped the incident with two minorly burned fingers, and a hole in his coat... but shortly after the flames had been extinguished, Dessimont felt a sharp pain in his hands; they had burst into blue flames!

        Water was immediately poured over his hands, but the flames persisted. A poultice was hurriedly made, but only increased the flames. Next Dessimont ran to a cutler who lived in the same house, and shoved his hand into the bone dust under the grinding wheel, which gave a slight relief. But after a half-hour of these desperate attempts to stop the flames, Dessimont ran to the nearby home of Dr. Richond-des-Brus, the trip clearly illuminated by the light of the flames on his hands. Once there, Dessimont banged on the door until the doctor and a servant answered it. 

        Dessimont wildly explained the problem while impatiently asking for a solution; the doctor, knowing that prolonged immersion in cold liquid was the best solution for burns in general, told Dessimont to immediately plunge his hands into the water of a nearby fountain, hold them there until he felt relief, and then go take a cold bath for the night. Dessimont ran to the fountain and sunk his hands in the cooling waters; the flames died, and he soon felt relieved enough to go back to his brother's house in the dark (his hands no longer provided light)... but only fifty yards away from the fountain, his hands ignited again. 

        At his brother's house, Dessimont dipped his hands into two buckets of water -- one hand in each bucket -- and the water soon became hot enough that it had to be changed out for cold water; this had to be continually done all through the night. Each time he pulled his hands out of the water, he could see a grease of some sort running down his fingers and the blue flames would soon re-appear. The flames did not produce a lot of light, but the size of them could be judged by Dessimont by holding his hands under the table, where the candlelight was blocked. 

        The doctor examined Dessimont's hands on the following day, once the flames had fully stopped appearing. The outer layers of skin were gone, and the exposed layers were gray and corroded in appearance. There were several large blisters, which were drained and treated with poultices. Since Dessimont had to head home -- he lived in a village about five leagues away -- Dr. Richond-des-Brus prescribed him a special diet, recommended that he drink lemonade, and also suggested that he should bleed his arms if the inflammation became unbearable. By the first of June, Dessimont's hands had largely healed, though they now possessed some wide scars, the little finger of his right hand was difficult for him to fully extend, and most of his fingernails had fallen off (but only one was not expected to grow back). 

        What had caused the strange fire? Even if it had been started by the burning sulpher -- and it seems to have started only after the sulpher had been extinguished -- there would be no reason for the flames to continually re-ignite, or heat up buckets of water. Dr. Richond-des-Brus considered the possibilities of hydrogen gas or electricity, but could see no way either would explain the events. How could a painful flame last a whole night yet not produce more horrific injuries?

Theories 

        Not surprisingly, this strange event was soon considered to be evidence for the phenomena called 'spontaneous human combustion,' which is a believed possibility of a human body being able to self-ignite and quickly burn to ash from the inside-out... but the details of this incident do not match any criteria put forward for SHC other than a strange fire was involved.