A Man Who Burst Into Flames For No Apparent Reason On A Busy London Street Has Died

Irish construction worker John Nolan burst into flames in the middle of a busy London street.

MR. SOMPHOT KLOMKAMINShutterstock

An Irish pensioner who burst into flames on a busy London street for no apparent reason has died, the Independent is reporting.

Authorities say that on September 17, 70-year-old John Nolan, a retired construction worker originally from Ireland, simply burst into flames for no apparent reason. Horrified onlookers tried to extinguish the flames, but the man continued to burn until firefighters arrived. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he spent the next several months. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries this week.

Investigators have no idea how the fire started. Ordinarily, an “accelerant” — that is, some type of fuel, such as gasoline — is needed to burn a human being on his or her own. Authorities found no traces of such a chemical, says chief investigator Damien Ait-Amer.

“We have spoken with a number of witnesses who saw Mr Nolan ablaze, but we have yet to establish how the fire started.”

There’s also no evidence that Mr. Nolan is the victim of a murder. Authorities say he wasn’t known to have any enemies, and he wasn’t known to have been in contact with anyone before he suddenly burst into flames.

“Mr Nolan was a well-liked member of the community and none of our enquiries so far have indicated that he had been involved in a dispute of any sort.”

The issue of spontaneous human combustion, as it’s called, remains controversial in the scientific community, according to Live Science. Simply put, scientists don’t believe that a human being can just burst into flames, outside of any external stimuli. Things — such as piles of fuel-soaked rags, for example — can spontaneously combust, under the right conditions. But the human body cannot.

Although stories of people spontaneously bursting into flames go back into antiquity, often blamed on the wrath of a vengeful deity, human history has actually only recorded a few real cases of supposed spontaneous human combustion. And gruesome are those cases: photographs show corpses burned from the inside out, burning their abdomens and chests to ash, leaving limbs like hands and feet mysteriously intact. Carpeting and furniture around the victim appear unscathed.

The reality is far more mundane, says researcher Joe Nickell. Most victims of SHC were alone, elderly, and, most importantly, were near a source of flame, such as a candle or cigarette. As for the burns limited to only a small area: fires are generally self-limiting, so it’s not unreasonable that a small fire would burn only a small area.

Oddly enough, John Nolan is not the only Irishman to have died in an apparent case of SHC. In 2010, Michael Flaherty was found dead in his home of severe burns with no apparent cause.