Volume 37, Issue 1 (January 1992)
Fire and Suicide: A Three-Year Study of Self-Immolation Deaths
Thirty-two self-immolation deaths by fire, representing about 1% of suicides, occurred in the province of Ontario (population 9 million), Canada, from 1986 through 1988. The victims, mostly male (male/female ratio, 26:6), were between 21 and 71 years old (mean age, 38 years). Although the scene of self-immolation was usually familiar to the deceased, some chose remote locations. Eleven were found dead in motor vehicles. An accelerant, usually gasoline, was used in most cases. Many of these individuals had, at some time, indicated their intent to commit suicide, a few by self-immolation, but only about half had a diagnosed psychiatric illness. Most of the victims had a reason to kill themselves, but the factors that motivated them to chose self-immolation by fire were uncertain. Fourteen individuals died in hospitals from severe burn complications. The remainder were found dead at the scene. The postmortem findings of soot in the airway and elevated carbon monoxide in the blood of most of these victims [the carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) concentration was in one case < 10%, in ten cases ≥ 10 to 50%, and in seven cases > 50%] were helpful in determining that the individuals were not only alive at the time of the fire but also that a significant number died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. The highest levels of carbon monoxide were observed in victims discovered in motor vehicles.