23 April 2012

Explaining the Mysterious Cuenca Fires

The strange spontaneous combustions in Cuenca, Batangas continue to intrigue me. There was a follow up report by TV Patrol Southern Tagalog this afternoon. An elderly gentleman got his foot burnt trying to put out one such fire by stepping on a burning cloth. For his troubles, his foot also became mysteriously swollen and apparently not from the burns alone.

Like any good news team, TV Patrol tried to present a plausible scientific explanation. One university professor was interviewed and her explanation approximated that which is found in Wikipedia:
  1. A substance with a relatively low ignition temperature (hay, straw, peat, etc.) begins to release heat. This may occur in several ways, usually oxidation by a little moisture and air.  Bacterial fermentation generates heat.
  2. The heat is unable to escape (hay, straw, peat, etc. are good thermal insulators), and the temperature of the material rises.
  3. The temperature of the material rises above its ignition point (even though much of the bacteria are destroyed by ignition temperatures).
  4. Combustion begins if sufficient oxidizer, such as oxygen, & fuel are present to maintain the reaction into thermal run-away.
There is a little problem with this explanation. The materials prone to spontaneous combustion in this manner are things like haystacks, compost piles, unprocessed cotton, linseed oil, coal, pyrite, pistachio nuts and large cow manure piles.

The materials burnt in San Isidro include clothing, wooden furniture and concrete walls, among other things. Moreover, the combustions seem to appear from out of nowhere and do not seem to have any apparent triggers but for the mysterious black smokes that a resident described in the original TV Patrol video.

There is an alternative explanation offered by the Spiritual Science Research Foundation, a non-profit corporation registered in both the United States and Australia.


In 2000, the foundation received photographs of various objects which had been disfigured by, among other things, spontaneous combustions.

Through its researches, the SSRF has discerned that 99% of cases of spontaneous combustions are due to something called ‘negative energies.’ The remaining 1%, the foundation says, may have a physical explanation.

The negative energies, the SSRF says, may be caused by higher level ghosts such as those which are called maantriks or subtle sorcerers. The higher level ghosts are not spirits of dead persons as most of us are familiar with but can be demons or devils.

Do not take my word for it. I will be leaving a link at the bottom of this page for anyone who wishes to read more.


Although the word ‘Science’ is among the words that the acronym SSRF stands for, I do not for one moment delude myself that the foundation’s researches will be acceptable as hard evidence by those engaged in conventional science.

Still, it is intriguing to know that its research and conclusions at least with regards spontaneous combustion approximate that which the average Filipino will have arrived at after hearing of the San Isidro phenomenon.

First of all, this explanation does not offer anything in the realm of the physical sciences. Then again, when it talks about devils or demons, we Filipinos just say engkanto.

I do not think any of us will be the wiser despite the two explanations I have dug up. On the other hand, if indeed the combustions are caused by engkantos – or, if you wish, demons – I guess we will never know for sure unless one decides to humour those in San Isidro by actually showing itself.

My word, that will be worse than the fires!

Link to Spontaneous Combustion by the SSRF web site.

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