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Oklahoma cops rake ashes of 'spontaneous combustion' victim

Timber-framed house intact as owner goes up in flames

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Investigators in Oklahoma are attempting to determine just how a 65-year-old man was largely incinerated while his timber-framed house suffered minimal damage, in what the the local sheriff described as a possible case of spontaneous human combustion.

Danny VanZandt was found burning on the kitchen floor in his home between Sallisaw and Muldrow on Monday morning. There was a cigarette lighter nearby, but no evidence of an accelerant. The only peripheral damage from the fire was to the floor where the victim lay, Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart explained.

He told the Tulsa World: "You get called to the house where there's a body inside, and you expect the house to be burnt down. This house is intact. There is a stove and ice box within 3 feet from where the body's burning, and the handles are not melted."

Only VanZandt's head, hands and feet survived the fire. Lockhart said of the remains: "You could pour gasoline on somebody and he wouldn't be as badly incinerated."

The Sherriff, who formerly worked as an arson investigator with the Police Department in neighbouring Fort Smith, Arkansas, said spontaneous combustion was a possibile explanation. He insisted: "People think we are idiots, but I'm telling you this was a very unusual scene."

Following an autotopsy, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office has ordered extra toxicology tests on what's left of VanZandt, although it could be two months until a cause of death is revealed.

Spontaneous human combustion is a controversial theory to explain people suddenly going up in flames, without apparent source of ignition or other external provocation. Sceptics point to simple explantions, such as a dropped cigarette, as possible unidentified causes, but in 2011, an Irish coroner ruled that 76-year-old Michael Faherty had indeed succumbed to the mysterious syndrome.

Faherty was burned to death on his living room floor, close to an open fire, although that hadn't played a part in his demise. Garda Gerard O'Callaghan explained the "only damage was to Faherty's remains, the floor underneath him and the ceiling above", according to the Guardian. ®

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