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A woman who appeared to burst into flame in Flensburg, Germany has died.Chainfire/Google

A Mauritius-born woman, who apparently burst into flames due to 'spontaneous human combustion' as she sat on a park bench in Germany, has died. A horrified passerby attempted to smother the flames with his jacket. The woman - thought to be in her 40s - was rushed to a local hospital by air ambulance to Lubeck with severe burns, but could not be saved.

According to local media the woman didn't make a sound when she was engulfed in flames, and there is speculation that she could have either committed suicide or even been attacked. One German website reported two men were seen running away from the playground shortly before the incident took place, though there is no confirmation of this. However, Flensburg public prosecutor Otto Gosch was quick to dispel local speculation that the woman had been attacked. "We have no evidence that points to a third party fault," said Gosch, appearing to dismiss a theory that the woman was set on fire to disguise stab wounds.

Although born in Mauritius, the woman was well-known locally and her death has caused shock in this small community of 80,000 people 160 km (100 miles) north of Hamburg. Prosecutor Ulrike Stahlmann-Liebelt said: "The victim has lived in Flensburg for a long time and has family here." Suicide has not been ruled out as one explanation, said Stahlmann-Liebelt.

Investigators will attempt to discover how the victim came to be on fire despite there being no obvious cause - a controversial phenomenon known as "spontaneous human combustion" (SHC). Some 200 people through history are said to have burst into flames without any external cause, usually being reduced to ashes. Scientists have speculated that the human body may be capable of becoming like an inside-out candle, their clothing acting as a wick, their body fat acting as the wax.