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1814, March (pre): French Woman’s Internal Burns

Sometime previous to March 1814, when the details were published, a Dr. Proteau addressed a meeting of the Société de Medecine Pratique (Society of Practical Medicine) in France regarding what he could only assume was the spontaneous combustion of a twenty-eight year old woman.

        The woman had been addicted to strong drink and was excessively fat, and was discovered on fire in her chamber where nothing else was burning except the flame in the hearth, three feet distant from her. The neighbors who came in stated that they had heard a noise as if something was frying; they threw water on her body to extinguish the fire. A book she had probably been reading was untouched by the fire. The body, lying on its back, left a black grease on the floor. Her face and tongue had been "reduced to a coal." Beneath her left breast, which had in part been destroyed by the combustion, there was an opening three inches in diameter, through which Dr. Proteau inserted his hand into her chest cavity; he was able to touch several of her ribs, which he was able to break easily, as if they had been calcined. Given this singular evidence, Dr. Proteau came to the conclusion that the fire had started within the woman's body, and that her clothing had only began to burn afterwards. The lower abdomen and upper thighs were burned or charred. The upper part of the woman's left arm appeared to have burned internally, and the arm broke away from the body as the corpse was moved. 

A Curious Case

        The details given sound as if the woman somehow ignited her respiratory system, leading to a fire that destroyed her face -- due to the presence of the mouth and nostrils -- and the internal cavity of her torso, in the region of the lungs. Dr. Prouteau was quite convinced that no external cause could have started the fire.