An unusually large corpse set a crematorium on fire Wednesday when the 500-pound body burned at dangerously high temperatures.
Jerry Hendris, operations manager of Southside Cremation Services in Henrico, Virginia, told WTVR that “the man was a little larger than what we had done in the past.”
A fire department spokesman said heat from the smokestack set the building’s rubber roof on fire. The blaze was eventually contained, and workers in the building escaped unharmed.
A larger body not only takes longer to burn, it will also burn much hotter if the heat is not carefully controlled. Funerals Online discusses the science behind cremating large bodies, warns of the dangers, and offers guidance:
A human body has a body mass index (BMI) which is generally used to measure how much fat we carry. Fat is obviously more combustible, so the higher the fat percentage of a body, the faster and more intensely it will burn. Every pound of lean tissue gives out approximately 1,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units), but every pound of fatty tissue emits 20,000 BTUs. It generally takes about three hours to conduct a standard cremation, but a body with excessive fatty tissue can take much longer to cremate. This poses safety issues for the cremation equipment, as it must be able to handle the intensity of the heat over a longer period. Ideally the crematory needs to conduct the cremation of an obese person first thing in the morning when their cremation machine is still cold as this helps to prevent overheating.
A similar case occurred two years ago in Austria when a 440-pound body set a crematorium ablaze, its body fat clogging the system’s air filters. This sparked calls from local fire officials to set up a special facility for oversized corpses.