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1980, March 4: Chorley Woman’s Fiery Death

The Legend:

On March 4, 1980, the ashen remains of an elderly woman were found in her home in Chorley, Lancashire, England. The remains were partly on the hearth and partly on the carpet, and only her legs below the knees were not converted to ash. There was smoke with no obvious fire. It was theorized that she fallen into the fireplace while trying to urinate into a bowl.

Unreliable

        This is the first listing of this incident in Anomalies, and therefore will require more research to confirm it. This is especially true because the above comes from Jenny Randles and Peter Hough's 1992 book, Spontaneous Human Combustion; this book gives almost no sources for the accounts it relates, most often attributing them to "Author's own investigation" and "Historical archives traced and researched"... which essentially means "Just trust us." In this case, the above is attributed to Tony McMunn but we are not told if it's from a book or interview, or any other information that would help track the source down. For this reason, this account is marked as both "Unreliable" and "Investigate;" I will add new information as I get a chance to dig further.

        Unless new details say otherwise, however, this look like a case of the 'wick effect' simply because of the fireplace being involved. In the 'wick effect', clothing ignited by a outside source -- such as a cigarette -- can consume a body with a slow smolder as it boils and consumes the body fat. In this case, the clothing acts in the same fashion as a wick in a candle, transporting fluid fat to the flame and only being consumed in part itself when the fluid runs out of a particular part of the body. Such a smolder will follow the clothes as long as there is body tissue to fuel it, and can reach localized temperatures high enough to destroy bone. Limbs can be left untouched, generally consumed only as far as clothing reaches them; so the bottom edge of a dress may leave an unburned foot behind. This all of course requires two main things (after a flame); time to burn slowly, and a victim who is already paralyzed or dead. In most of these cases, the victims have been drunk, drugged, or deceased before the fire started.