The determination was made by Dr Kieran McLoughlin, the West Galway coroner and 25 year veteran. Although there was a fire burning in the fireplace in the room where Faherty died, that fire was contained. McLoughlin found no evidence of a jumping spark. McLoughlin found damage only to Faherty’s body, the floor beneath it, and the ceiling above it. McLoughlin could find no accelerant, no evidence of foul play, and no evidence of anyone entering or leaving the house that night. Pathologist Professor Grace Callagy stated in her post-mortem findings that Faherty had suffered from Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, but she concluded he had not died from heart failure.
Spontaneous human combustion occurs when a body bursts into flame from an internal chemical reaction, apparently without being ignited by an external heat source. As the stories go, the fire starts from within the body and bursts forth, burning quickly and with extreme heat, consuming all or nearly all of the body. If science can’t determine a reason for its occurrence, that’s the perfect opportunity for a writer to step in.
To me, the image of an intense fire bursting out of a body conjures up images of Hell and demons. Perhaps a demon is now walking the earth and the poor victims of spontaneous human combustion are the doorway? Perhaps the dead are victims of a violent and evil spell–a grandchild eager for his inheritance or a wife desirous of an insurance settlement makes a deal with a dark magician? What if the victim was the magician? What if he was trying a dangerous, new spell, or maybe he was meddling with powers beyond his ken? What if it was simply an accident that occurred during a ritual?
What if the cause is not magical but biological? What if a parasite invades a human host and begins to multiply? Once it reaches critical mass, it ignites, releasing itself into the environment like a burst of spores. Humans, easily attracted to fire, come to investigate and can take in the parasite–it’s just a shame so many parasites die in the fire, making transmission difficult (OK, I admit, from an evolutionary point of view, this one is a stretch, but I liked the idea of a firey fungal bloom or an infernal sneeze, so I included it).
What do you think of spontaneous human combustion? What do you think could cause it? What do you think happened to Faherty?