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A Case of Spontaneous Combustion from 1916?

Illustration for article titled A Case of Spontaneous Combustion from 1916?

This photograph from 1916 is of a fire at the Treasury Dept.'s "Bureau of Engraving and Printing," presumably in Washington, D.C. Mysteriously, however, whomever labeled it described the fire as "spontaneous combustion."

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We may never be sure what our anonymous archivist really meant by that. Perhaps an engraver suddenly burst into flames, setting the whole building on fire. Or maybe the building itself suddenly caught on fire for no reason. Either way, Dave posted this intriguing image on Shorpy (above), and a commenter noticed that it looked like this (below) present-day intersection in D.C., on Raoul Wallenburg Place.

Illustration for article titled A Case of Spontaneous Combustion from 1916?
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via Shorpy

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DISCUSSION

klebert-l--hall-old
Klebert L. Hall

Um, there's nothing supernatural about spontaneous combustion... Happens all the time at wood-pulp plants, for example.

I expect this happened in paper storage, paper always biodegrades, producing heat - put too much in a pile, fail to cool the room, and presto!

Been a while since I said this, but this is really pushing the envelope, here. Or is it "Urban Fantasy"?

-Kle.