Arnold, Larry (1949– ) Pennsylvania school bus driver Larry Arnold is one of the leading proponents of the belief in spontaneous human combustion (SHC), whereby people supposedly burst into flames with no warning and for no apparent reason. In his 1995 book, Ablaze!, Arnold provides details about several cases in which he believes the victims combusted spontaneously. From these cases, he developed the theory that SHC is brought on by the cellular makeup of the victims, combined with their emotional state. Specifically, Arnold suggests that some people have developed a heightened sensitivity at the cellular level to sparks, which then makes them more susceptible to SHC. Arnold contends that the sparks that ignite them come from extra energy produced when they are upset. Indeed, most victims in the cases Arnold cites were in a highly emotional state in the moments before bursting into flames, and many had been depressed or even suicidal for days before.
Skeptics dismiss Arnold’s theory, and many have criticized him for his lack of expertise in regard to either fire or human physiology. They have also criticized his unwillingness to consider that careless cigarette smoking, combined with combustible clothing and furniture, might have caused many of the deaths he attributes to SHC. For example, critics say that in presenting the 1966 case of an ailing, infirm ninety-year-old Pennsylvania physician named John Irving Bentley, Arnold pays little attention to the facts that Bentley was a heavy smoker known for dropping ashes on his robe, that he carried boxes of wooden matches in his robe pockets, that he tried to extinguish the flames with water before burning to death alone in his bathroom, and that he died in a spot where an updraft coming from the basement would have greatly intensified the fire.
- spontaneous human combustion
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning