All poltergeist activity is unsettling in one way or another. And much can be said for mysterious cases of spontaneous human combustion. However, when those two elements combine, the intrigue and unsettlement are turned up a notch, to say the least.
The fact is, there are more of these encounters than we might think, with a string of encounters that afflicted the Tuck family in Alabama in the late 1950s being a particularly intriguing and disturbing case that perhaps demonstrates this obscure fusing of phenomena.
Whether these truly mysterious events involving fires beginning out of nowhere and, at least initially, causing little damage to anything around it is another layer to the already complex poltergeist phenomena is perhaps open to debate. They are, though, most certainly worthy of further contemplation and possible investigation in the event that they might provide us with an insight into these truly strange events.
Indeed, the case of the Tuck family is one of the most thought-provoking and unsettling on record. And while we will examine other cases shortly, we will begin with this truly unsettling encounter.
- 1 Sudden Mysterious Fires Around The Tuck Home
- 2 More Ghostly Fire Cases Than We Think
- 3 Links Between Poltergeist Activity And Spontaneous Human Combustion?
- 4 Very Strange Cases Indeed
Sudden Mysterious Fires Around The Tuck Home
Beginning in August 1958, the Tuck family, Calvin and his wife Willie Bell, along with their six children, already struggling financially and living in virtual poverty, began suffering small unexplainable fires that would seemingly start out of nowhere in their home in Talladega, Alabama. 
Even stranger were some of the items that appeared to be the focus of these mysterious blazes. For example, on one occasion, a loaf of bread suddenly burst into flames, and on another one particular item of clothing burned without affecting other garments. It was almost as if these items were spontaneously combusting. What the family also noticed was the flames appeared to be an odd combination of red and blue, and an odor of sulfur was also present during these outbreaks.
Although they were at random, relatively separated intervals to begin with, the fires began increasing as the days went on, with over 50 different incidents. And what’s more, other people outside the family home also witnessed these bizarre events. On one occasion, a contractor claimed he had witnessed several fires simply start out of nowhere, on average, every 15 minutes.
Unsure what to do and increasingly frightened for their safety, the Tuck family informed the authorities. They too, though, were just as perplexed and could offer no rational explanation for the events.
It appeared as though the fires most often began at the ceiling. However, as the house didn’t have an electricity supply, faulty wiring was soon ruled out as a cause of the Tuck family’s problems. Even the local fire department could find no cause for the fires. It got to the point where neighbors and other locals would take turns to wait outside the property with buckets of water, ready to douse any fires the family might miss, particularly when they were asleep.
However, this support, as grateful as the family undoubtedly was, would prove to not be enough.
Burned Down To The Ground
After several weeks of the suddenly appearing fires, one day the family was confronted with one blaze after another. So intense were these outbreaks of flames that the entire homes were quickly engulfed and eventually burned to the ground. Fortunately for the Tuck family, no one was harmed in the blaze, but they were now literally homeless.
As they had no insurance of any kind, rebuilding was not an option for the Tuck family. They ultimately moved into another property a short distance away. At least, they thought, the persistently appearing fires would not cease and they could return to life as normal. These hopes, however, would prove to be short-lived. Within hours of moving into their new abode, fires began breaking out, just as they had done previously.
At this point, undoubtedly under intense pressure, Calvin dragged all of the family’s possessions from the home and set them on fire, incinerating everything they owned thinking they were cursed and that this would solve the problem. It didn’t and the house they had just moved into also burned completely down.
Following this, the Tucks went to live with Calvin’s brother-in-law, Darnell Suttle. The bizarre happenings, though, would follow them here too.
Strange Events Follow The Family
Several fires began and were quickly put out by the family and Suttle shortly after they arrived, and the family went about placing buckets of water in each room so that any further fires could be put out as quickly as possible. Once more, the authorities were contacted, and police officers attended the property. As they walked into the property, they passed a tree with a blanket thrown over the top of it in the yard. Suddenly, the blanket burst into flames leaving each of them shocked at what they were seeing. Even stranger, the fire then appeared to bring itself under control, eventually dying out in a decidedly unnatural way.
Even stranger, when one of the police officers noticed a small part of the blanket that hadn’t been damaged by the fire, he took his lighter and tried to set it alight himself, just to see what would happen. To his amazement, the fire refused to take hold.
When the two officers went inside, Willie Bell told them that several items of the clothing had gone up in flames inside the house in a similar way. When they looked around the property, they could indeed see strange burn markings where the clothing must have suddenly begun burning.
After several days of these unsettling events, Suttle asked the Tucks to leave his house, scared that he too would lose his entire home to the flames if they remained. With no money and nowhere to stay and this mysterious and relentless fiery tormentor stalking them wherever they went, the future appeared more than bleak for the family. Ultimately, they would go to stay with Calvin’s father. The fire outbreaks would follow them there also.
A Fire Curse
Now desperate for a solution of any kind, Calvin eventually went to visit a Voodoo witch doctor. According to what he said, a “fire curse” was the cause of the family’s problems. He would supply a mixture of herbs that the family was to chew each day for the next three days. He also gave them a bottled concoction that they were to bury in the yard of their home, or in this case, Calvin’s father’s home. The family did as the witch doctor had told them. However, the fires continued on a daily basis.
At this stage, the authorities were carrying out a genuine investigation into the events, concerned not just for the family, but other residents also. It was an incident that was witnessed by the local Fire Chief that provided the very first hint at what might be behind these obscure goings-on, although it would be a clue that was interpreted incorrectly.
After an old rag that had been left on a table suddenly burst into flames and became incinerated within seconds, it was noted that a peculiar green substance was present where the rag had been. Not thinking of any kind of paranormal connection, investigators began to suspect that an arsonist could be behind the fires.
Several days after moving into their fourth temporary accommodation in less than two weeks, the Tuck family moved again to a friend of the family. The authorities, though, still kept a close watch on the family, not least as they still suspected that arson was the cause of these fires, and as such, the matter was a crime.
Investigators would also spend considerable time in the properties that the family had temporarily stayed in before moving on – namely, Calvin’s brother-in-law and his father. Following the discovery of the green substance, they were now looking for other traces of an accelerant that might have been left behind. There were, however, no traces of any accelerants or flammable substances at either location.
Despite this, and the fact that several police officers and fire officers had seen items burst into flames of their own accord with their own eyes, the official narrative was that these were cases of arson. They perhaps did this, at least in part, due to the discovery of small amounts of phosphorous they found in the wallpaper of rooms where fires had taken place. As phosphorus is potentially flammable, it perhaps strengthened the argument for arson, if only in investigators’ own minds.
Phosphorus, however, is also extremely volatile, and almost certainly unsafe in the hands of anyone but an experienced handler. Even the storage of phosphorus is difficult.
A Bizarre Twist Or A Simple (And Convenient) Explanation?
Just as it appeared that the case couldn’t get any stranger, they suddenly had someone come forward and confess to being behind the fires – none other than the Tucks’ 9-year-old son, Calvin Jr. He claimed, at least according to the police report, that he had achieved this either by using matches or by making rags “smolder” before they would suddenly burst into flames and so making his family believe that their house was haunted or that they were cursed.
He did this, the police report claims, in order to frighten his family into moving back to Birmingham, and hadn’t intended to cause the houses to burn to the ground. Ultimately, he was held for psychiatric evaluation. The police, however, were happy to quickly draw a line under the case, certain that they had found their arsonist.
Some people, though, were not so sure.
There are certainly some interesting points to consider. How, for example, had the young boy managed to perfect the slow-burning process in order to make it look like rags would just burst into flames? How could the blanket that burst into flames of its own accord in the yard be explained, as well as why the police officer was unable to light it afterward? And, at least according to reports at the time, a great many of these fires occurred when the boy didn’t appear to be in the house or anywhere near it.
Furthermore, if we look at other Poltergeist cases, particularly ones that attract a lot of attention, there is often a desire to get a confession in the public domain simply to calm any potential hysteria. Might this have been the case here? Might the local authorities have simply been looking to curb what could develop into a potentially dangerous situation? It is certainly a credible suggestion.
There is also the detail of whether Calvin Jr. was away from the house, or simply unseen. Was he nearby but simply not noticed? This is certainly possible, but we might expect that he would have at some point been seen.
What’s more, even if the boy was behind the fires and had managed to set them undetected, how was he able to control them, for the majority of the time, so that the specific items burned quickly and then died down without spreading? In fact, this detail is very similar to spontaneous human combustion, which we will examine a little more shortly.
In short, the encounters, at least to some, remain a complete mystery. They are, however, not the only cases of apparent poltergeist activity involving strange, suddenly-appearing fires.
More Ghostly Fire Cases Than We Think
While the Tuck family encounter is certainly one of the most intriguing, it is far from the only case of apparent ghosts or energies from the other side starting fires in the realm of the living. In 1987, for example, in the village of Yenakievo in Ukraine (then under the Soviet Union) was what could be labeled a real-life Carrie incident when a young boy named only as Sasha K found himself at the center of several strange and suddenly appearing fires. When he was in the vicinity, all manner of objects would simply engulf themselves in flames.
Eventually, the boy’s father became ill with worry as to what was causing his son to seemingly cause these fires, and he was ultimately sent to Moscow so he could be medically evaluated. The conclusions of the physicist were that Sasha was either possessed by an evil spirit that used energy through the young boy to cause fires or that a poltergeist was behind the mystery blazes. Perhaps most disturbing of all, though, is that there appears to be no information whatsoever on what happened to Sasha following this evaluation in Moscow.
Over half a century earlier, in 1922 at a farm in Caledonia Mills in Nova Scotia, strange activity began to occur at the farm at Alexander McDonald, including activity normally associated with poltergeist phenomena. Some of the strangest accounts saw several of the cattle locked in a barn with their tails “braided” together, while another saw a mysterious fire seemingly begin out of nowhere in the farmhouse. Some members of the farm even reported being pushed and even slapped by an apparently invisible person.
The incidents were eventually investigated by a member of the American Psychical Society, Dr. Walter Prince. It was noted that much of the activity appeared to revolve around 16-year-old Mary Ellen, the adopted daughter of the McDonalds who due to a disability had the mental age of four. It was Prince’s opinion that the young girl was responsible for the strange goings-on, although she was not aware of it and was likely possessed or being manipulated by an unknown spirit or entity.
In more recent times, in 2011, in the Malaysian village of Kota Baru, a 78-year-old woman suddenly found fires breaking out in random places and at random times around her home.  Like many of the other cases we have examined here, these fires would begin in clothing, papers, and even items of furniture. It was reported that over 200 such fires were recorded in a matter of weeks.
Many theories were put forward, including that the fires could caused by a Djinn. Others, however, suggested a poltergeist was more likely. Her case attracted the interest of many paranormal investigators. Eventually, one of these managed to put an end to the fires through a spiritual ritual – similar to an exorcism.
The St. John’s Fire Poltergeist – The Bizarre Encounters Of The Parsons Family
Perhaps one of the most intriguing of these other cases occurred in Newfoundland in Canada only four years before the Tuck family haunting in November 1954.  Over a period of around two weeks, several incidents of suddenly appearing fires would hit the Parsons family.
On one occasion, a dictionary suddenly set alight of its own accord. On another, a sack of sugar went up in flames. Perhaps one of the most unsettling was when a box of “religious literature” was consumed by suddenly appearing flames. This was a particularly intense blaze that took considerable effort to snuff out. Even a doll was incinerated by fire that appeared with no apparent cause.
Such was the strangeness of the encounters that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police visited the home and investigated the incidents. They couldn’t, however, find any clue as to what might have started the fires. Further strange blazes occurred, leading to one investigator to label the events as being of “unnatural goings-on”.
Then, just like that, the strange fires suddenly stopped.
Whether the events were paranormal in nature or simply a strange prank by one of the Parsons children remains open to debate. It is interesting to note that, the “unnatural goings-on” remark aside, there was little mention of the idea that the events could be caused by a poltergeist in news reports of the incident. There are also, no apparent motivating factors for anyone in the house to be behind the mysterious fires.
The case remains unsolved to this day.
The Strange Encounters On The Willey’s Farm
Six years previously, in the summer of 1948 in Macomb, Illinois, the farm of the Willey family was the focus of similar fiery events.  According to newspaper reports of the time, the family began to encounter suddenly appearing fires, to begin with, in the walls and ceiling of the property. The family claimed that strange dark spots would suddenly appear in the wallpaper which would then develop into flames. This progressed to certain spots in the ceiling before eventually, papers in the house began bursting into flames, seemingly of their own accord.
Newspapers that had been stored in a box, for example, were discovered smoldering away, while books and other reading material appeared to burst into flames for no reason whatsoever. Of even more concern, curtains and clothing were soon found burning in random places in the home.
These, though, were all just precursors to the very tragic events of 14th August when their home burned completely to the ground. Luckily, no one was hurt in the blaze. The following day, one of the family’s barns was reduced to nothing but rubble and ash, while several days later, a second barn was completely engulfed in flames.
Then, just as quickly as they began, and with the family staying in another property, the fires suddenly stopped. Even more bizarre, almost immediately after they stopped, an apparent explanation was found for the bizarre and destructive events.
In a similar way that the Tuck family encounter would seemingly be explained, the 13-year-old niece Charles Willey confessed to setting the fires, apparently after she had taken a box of matches that had been left as bait by the police for the suspected arsonist. After she was caught with them, she was interrogated by officers for close to an hour before finally admitting to being behind the fires.
It appeared that she had set the fires in order to have herself moved back to her mother in Bloomington (she currently lived with her father, Willey’s brother-in-law who had received custody of the children following divorcing their mother). When the young girl was interviewed by a psychiatrist following her revelations, it was determined that she was being truthful and that she was a “nice kid caught in the middle of a broken home”.
What should we make of this confession? Were the police simply looking for a reasonable explanation so they could wash their hands of the case? We should note that the fires did stop after this apparent confession. However, how can some of the strange fires be explained simply by the actions of a teenager? How did they manage to get the walls to suddenly burst into flames at very specific spots? And even stranger, how did they manage to have certain documents and pieces of paper self-immolate?
The case, at least to some, remains of interest to investigators into such strange cases.
Poltergeist Activity In Bladenboro?
Perhaps one of the earliest cases of a fire-causing poltergeist occurred in early 1932 in a small house in the town of Bladenboro in North Carolina.  On the evening of 30th January, the first of 20 suddenly appearing fires broke out at the home of elderly couple Council H. Williamson and his wife Lydia, when a curtain in the couple’s dining room suddenly burst into flames.
These mystery blazes would continue the following day with, bedclothes, a pair of trousers hanging on the wall, as well as various stacks of paper all bursting into flames with no apparent cause or reason. Perhaps the worst incident featured a young girl at the property – the Williamson’s granddaughter – whose dress suddenly burst into flames. The fire was quickly extinguished but there was no clue at all as to what could have caused it. Even more mind-blowing, the girl herself was completely unharmed, if very shaken.
Then, at around noon on 1st February, the fires stopped just as quickly as they had begun, leaving the husband and wife as perplexed as they were relieved.
The happenings, though, had certainly caught the interest of local and national newspapers, all of whom documented the encounter, some even dedicating an entire page to it. According to one reporter from the Bladen Journal, the temporary family moved out shortly after so that investigators could examine the home in an effort to find answers as to what might have caused the fires. The report stated that the house was “closely guarded” by authorities and that only those with permission were allowed to enter. It was also noted that the pair was “of the highest type” and as such, were credible and trustworthy witnesses.
With that, though, press interest died down and the story simply disappeared only to be revived years later with the arrival of the Internet and the mass sharing of such accounts.
Over half a century later, Larry Arnold documented the incident in his book Ablaze! The Mysterious Fires of Spontaneous Human Combustion, stating that the case “sounds like the classic poltergeist fire phenomenon”. He would elaborate that this was like spontaneous human combustion, only objects burst into flames rather than people. This is something we will come back to shortly.
There appeared to be genuine mystery regarding the events. In 2016, however, it appeared that a breakthrough had been made in solving the bizarre events.  An explanation was put forward – much like many other similar cases of apparent poltergeist activity involving flames and fire – that the real perpetrator was a member of the affected household – in this case, the granddaughter whose dress had gone up in flames. Had she really the knowledge, and (relatively speaking) the bravery to set herself alight certain that she herself would not be injured.
According to some, though, the assertion that the activity was simply down to a mischievous small child is simply too ambiguous. And furthermore, doesn’t address, at least not to a satisfactory standard, the many specific anomalies of such cases.
We might also consider if the granddaughter was behind the suddenly appearing fires, that the setting of them was much more paranormal than simply setting slow-burning fires or even igniting something while they were alone and then disappearing. Perhaps we should consider that the cause of these fires was some kind of mental energy transfer – perhaps something that they had no conscious control or understanding of.
Links Between Poltergeist Activity And Spontaneous Human Combustion?
It is perhaps worth our time examining any potential links to spontaneous combustion, specifically, spontaneous human combustion. Many people who claim to have witnessed this phenomenon first-hand often claim the flames are a strange mixture of red, orange, and blue. Of course, the color of the flames is often dictated by exactly what is burning. Might this indeed be the case here, only whatever is burning is something that comes to us from another world.
As a brief sidenote, we might also note once more that the family would state these flaming encounters were often accompanied by a strong odor of sulfur – something noticed in poltergeist cases and even alien abduction encounters. Might there be a wider connection than we could think to this detail?
Might it be that there is a more paranormal nature to spontaneous human combustion? Indeed, might there be a link between such a hellish end and poltergeist activity? While this is purely speculative, it is certainly a question worth asking and investigating. Indeed, might we find, by studying such cases involving suddenly appearing fires in apparent poltergeist activity that we find an explanation for the grisly phenomenon that is spontaneous human combustion?
Could these fiery ends have been caused by some kind of intense poltergeist activity that turned deadly? That is perhaps a question for another article. It is, though, something that should remain on the mental backburner.
Very Strange Cases Indeed
Whether the encounters of the Tuck family or any of the other cases we have examined here, were a genuine poltergeist that seemingly set fire after fire wherever the family chose to make their home or simply a case of an intelligent if misguided young child or not remains open to debate.
If these cases are genuine paranormal encounters with fire-starting poltergeists, then we might ask for what reason these fires started. Is it merely a case of the individual desires and methods of individual poltergeists? Or might there be some other variable that lies behind these suddenly appearing fires?
We might note that other phenomena such as mysterious sounds, strange footsteps, and even being pushed or pulled by an invisible presence were not reported. Does this suggest that poltergeist activity is not to blame for these mysterious cases of suddenly appearing fires after all and that we should be looking at another, as yet unknown explanation?
It is perhaps also interesting to note, as trivial or even circumstantial as it might be, that many of these cases are separated by decades, yet they all contain remarkably similar details – and often involve young children, some of whom have even confessed to the fires.
While it is possible that young children from different decades from history would attempt to “scare” their parents for a variety of reasons, it is perhaps not likely that all would opt to set things alight, at least not consciously. Might they not, for example, opt to fake strange noises and sudden messes that are more likely to be attributed to ghosts and ghouls rather than setting slow-burning fires? Or perhaps that view is naïve.
Either way, such cases remain a mystery.
You can check out a video on some of the most terrifying poltergeist cases below.
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