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1986, February 5: Preston Man’s Fiery Death

The Legend:

On February 5, 1986, the greatly incinerated body of a 71-year-old man was discovered in his home by two workers and one of the man's neighbors in Preston, Lancashire, England. Only the man's head, part of the shoulders, his lower legs, and part of one arm were intact. The remains were found lying next to a fire grating, and partially within the fireplace. There was minimal fire damage to the room, and a settee with loose covers just a few inches away was undamaged. The room was well ventilated, and the man had last been seen alive at 4:30 PM the previous day and discovered in the morning... therefore  investigators concluded the man had fallen into the grate, and then had his body consumed by a slow fire in a situation known as the "wick effect."

        The 'wick effect' occurs when clothing is 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.

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 Randles & Hough fail to state if it is from a book or interview, or give any information that would help to track it 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.