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An ‘overly obese’ body set a Cincinnati crematorium on fire

By Kate Irby

kirby@mcclatchy.com

It seemed like business as usual on Wednesday when a routine cremation in Cincinnati, Ohio started a fire that got out of control.

But it wasn’t due to faulty wiring – it was the amount of fat on a body employees were cremating.

“My operator was in the process of cremating remains and (the body) was overly obese and apparently it got a little hotter than the unit is supposed to get,” owner Don Catchen told WCPO. “One of the cremation containers that we had close got caught on fire and that’s what burnt.”

The blaze took two hours for firefighters to get under control, according to WCPO, but there was little serious damage since crematoriums are built to withstand fire. Catchen called it a “freak accident,” but it’s not totally uncommon.

“When a morbidly obese person is cremated, there’s a danger of what can only be called (in layman’s terms) a ‘grease fire,’” Caleb Wilde wrote in a blog post on Confessions of a Funeral Director. “In the past — especially in America — such fires have prompted crematoriums to purchase larger retorts (a retort is the ‘oven’) and to use different methods of cremating morbidly obese persons.”

In October 2014, a 500-pound body stoked a large fire at a crematorium in Virginia. Directors of that crematorium explained to WTVR that an average-sized body takes about two hours to cremate, while a body more than 300 pounds takes around four or five hours. Continuous heat on a body for that long adds to the fire risk.

The body of a woman who weighed more than 400 pounds set fire to a crematorium in Austria in June 2012. It prompted officials to consider a ban on cremating larger bodies, but that never came to fruition. Some crematorium directors do refuse burning larger bodies, directing people to travel to other facilities built to withstand the higher heat required for those cases.

More than a third of adults in the U.S. are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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