Original story by Ulf Hanke 13/4/2012. Edited by S W T Read
As the number of obese Germans rises like other places in the world the funeral industry is scrambling to make adjustments in how larger bodies with more fat can be safely incinerated.
A number of crematoriums have suffered severe damage when burning fat overwhelmed their emergency measures.
The crematorium employee in the western German town of Hamelin took a last look at the coffin before pushing it inside the furnace.
This was the third coffin he had processed on the morning of January 13, and the body itself weighed over 200 kilograms (440 pounds).
Of that, only two kilograms of ashes were supposed to remain after cremation.
15 minutes later, flames shot out of the crematorium's 10-meter-high (33-foot-high) stainless-steel chimney, and parts of it began to melt.
Firemen determined that the smoking chimney was glowing at 600 degrees Celsius (1,100 degrees Fahrenheit). They cooled it from the side and used an infrared camera to track the spread of heat through the building. It took four hours to reduce the body in the furnace to ash.
Cremations in Germany and around the world are becoming more complicated owing to an increase in obesity, around half of the country's deceased are cremated. Roughly 15 percent of Germans are obese, and the figures are climbing.
The funeral industry has had to adapted to these new conditions with super-size coffins and crematorium furnaces outfitted with larger doors.
One problem remains: Due to their high fat content, obese bodies often burn so hot that they overtax crematorium facilities.
The cause of the chimney fire in Hamelin appears to have been "extreme heat due to burning a high amount of fat," according to Carl Schmidt, the crematorium's manager.
No one knows exactly how often such things happen. But especially heavy bodies have long been considered one of the causes of spikes in pollution levels found during periodic inspections of crematorium exhaust emissions.