A viral TikTok trend is being blamed for the death of a Wisconsin couple, who was reportedly electrocuted after trying the popular craft of fractal wood-burning at home.
On April 21, Chief Deputy Chad Billeb from the Marathon County Sheriff's office told reporters that deputies responded to a residential fire on April 6 and initially ruled it as a homicide until further information.
When the remains of Tanya Rodriguez, 44, and James Carolfi, 52 were discovered in the garage after the conflagration had been extinguished, authorities launched a three-week investigation to determine the cause of the fire.
“Due to the nature of this incident and the substantial damage caused by the fire, it was incredibly difficult to determine the cause of death and the series of events," Billeb said at a news conference.
The couple's death was ruled an accident when the investigation revealed they died by electrocution from equipment used for fractal wood-burning before the fire started.
You can watch a news report, here.
Fractal wood-burning uses high voltage electricity generated by jumper cables and disassembled microwave parts to burn tree or lightning-like patterns into wood that has been soaked in a chemical solution.
The patterns on the wood resulting from the controversial technique are also known as Lichtenberg figures, named after the German physicist Georg Lichtenberg–who discovered them while experimenting with static electricity in 1777.
Billeb delivered a public safety message suggesting social media trends like fractal wood burning should not be attempted at home.
“This was a tragic accident," he said. "In light of this tragedy, we’d like to educate the community on the dangers of fractal wood-burning, an art form that has gained popularity on social media sites such as TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.”
The American Association of Woodturners (AAW) has also warned of its dangers.
"High voltage electricity is an invisible killer. If you are looking into fractal burning, stop right now and move on to something else. This could save your life."
The AAW's Safety Committee issued a policy against the controversial technique in 2017 prompted by the death of at least one craftsman.
"The reported cases of fractal burning deaths range from hobbyist woodworkers through experienced woodworkers to an electrician with many years experience working with electricity," they wrote.
"It only takes one small mistake and you are dead; not injured, dead."
"Some of those who died were experienced at using the process and some were not. What is common to all of them: fractal burning killed them."