GALWAY, IRELAND – A man who died  had “spontaneously combusted” in his home.

Michael Faherty, a 76-year-old retiree in Galway, died at his home at Clareview Park on December 22, 2010 in circumstances that had baffled investigators.

An Irish coroner, Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin, has now officially ruled Faherty’s death “caused by spontaneous combustion.”

It is believed to be the first case of its kind in Ireland.

Here’s Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin leaving his office after telling the press about the spontaneous combustion of Faherty:

Deaths attributed by some to “spontaneous combustion” occur when a living human body is burned without an apparent external source of ignition.

Typically police or fire investigators find burned corpses but no burned furniture.

An inquest in Galway on Thursday heard how investigators had been baffled as to the cause of Mr Faherty’s death.

Forensic experts found that a fire in the fireplace of the sitting room where the badly burnt body was found, had not been the cause of the blaze that killed Mr. Faherty.

The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there had been nothing to suggest foul play.

The court heard Mr. Faherty had been found lying on his back with his head closest to an open fireplace.

Here’s Faherty’s fireplace:

The fire had been confined to the sitting room. The only damage was to the body, which was totally burnt, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath him.

Dr McLoughlin said he had consulted medical textbooks and carried out other research in an attempt to find an explanation.

He said Professor Bernard Knight, in his book on forensic pathology, had written about spontaneous combustion and noted that such reported cases were almost always near an open fireplace or chimney.

“This fire was thoroughly investigated and I’m left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation,” he said.

Retired professor of pathology Sean Grady said he had examined one suspected case in his career.

He said he would not use the term spontaneous combustion, as there had to be some source of ignition, possibly a lit match or cigarette.

“There is a source of ignition somewhere, but because the body is so badly destroyed the source can’t be found,” he said.

He said the circumstances in the Galway case were very similar to other possible cases.

“Even the most experienced rescue worker or forensic scientist takes a sharp intake of breath (when they come across the scene).”

Many in Ireland believe that spontaneous is combustion is really “God calling back his son or daughter in a quick – and dramatic fashion .”

“God is the cause of spontaneous combustion.  It happens much more frequently than is reported. You can be walking down the street, or eating your oatmeal and then – poof! – you are called back to our Lord,” said Father O’Malley of Saint Peter’s Church in Galway.

Mr, Grady, however, said he doubted explanations centred on divine intervention.  “I’d have to see it happen with my own eyes, to believe it.”

“I think if the heavens were striking in cases of spontaneous combustion then there would be a lot more cases on record. I go for the practical, the mundane explanation,” he said.

Soon after, Mr. Grady, spontaneously combusted. This is where he had been standing:

Citizens in Galway are frightened and surprisingly, are altering their behavior.  “People are being nicer to each other – for fear that they may combust at any moment,” said Maggie Shawn of Galway.

Be careful out there…



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