The Saturday Strangeness

By NeilA Last edited 104 months ago
The Saturday Strangeness

Man on fire
Picture taken from happysweetmama's Flickr photostream under a Creative Commons license.
118. A Burning Question

The phenomenon of Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) occurs rarely, but when it does it is a horrifying mystery that causes severe injuries and sometimes death.

In 1985, the London Standard (31st May) and the National Enquirer (23rd July) covered the story of 19-year-old computer operator Paul Hayes, non-smoker, who literally caught on fire. He was strolling along a road in Stepney Green on the night of 25th May when he inexplicably burst into flames. There was no-one else around to observe the terror that consumed the victim. From the waist up Paul's body was smothered in flickering, intense flames which danced red and orange about him. Paul's instinct was to cover his eyes, but raising his arms was difficult for he told the press that, "... it felt as though they were being prodded by red-hot pokers..."

Paul's cheeks burned intensely, his body a furnace as he fell to the ground, flailing and smoking under the heat. It was as if his chest had been doused in boiling water and his brain was bubbling.

"I tried to run, stupidly thinking I could race ahead of the flames."

The pain was beyond description as he stumbled, fell and curled up in to a ball, screaming in anguish as images of his friends and family flashed before his eyes. Then, suddenly, the burning stopped, no flames danced on his torso, and slowly Paul opened his eyes, realising there was no smoke or fire.

"I lay still, terrified. I began to shiver with shock. I was numb in some spots, white-hot in others."

Thankfully Paul was not far from The London Hospital, and he crawled there and stumbled into casualty. Burns on his hands, forearms, face, neck and ears were treated quickly. As to why he had suddenly combusted nobody knows, and that's why the mystery of SHC has never been explained.

Last Updated 15 August 2009

Andy Hayler

I am bemused that you choose to spoil your otherwise excellent web site with nonsense like this. Perhaps he was, er drunk and smoking (a plausible combination here), or maybe aliens chose this moment to visit mankind. What next - UFOs, black helicopters?

Neil Arnold

Andy, you really must get over it. For a start, these kind of articles are written to simply speak of the variety of mysteries which have peppered London folklore for many years - some true, some probably exaggerated yarns, some easily explained. Even so, if it remains so nonsensical why bother reading it ? I'm sure a few people out there enjoy my column.
And one other thing, you say that the subject in the story may have caught on fire due to smoking...I think you need to read the story again, especially the second chapter which mentions...oh yes, he was a non-smoker.