Grim warning after American couple died in attempted ‘deadly’ TikTok trend
Law enforcement officials said a Wisconsin couple was electrocuted while attewoodburningpular but dangerous woodburning technique.
The “fractal branding” technique creates lightning-like etchings by using jumper cables and disassembled parts of the microwave to run high-voltage electricity through a piece of wood soaked in a chemical solution.
It yields patterns known as Lichtenberg figures, named after the physicist Georg Lichtenberg, who discovered them in 1777 while experimenting with static electricity.
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The technique is gaining popularity through viral videos on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, but woodworking experts warn it can be extremely dangerous and deadly.
Fractal Burning creates lightning-like etchings using jumper cables and disassembled parts of the microwave to run high-voltage electricity through a piece of wood soaked in a chemical solution. Credit: Included
Tanya Rodriguez, 44, and James Carolfi, 52, were found dead in a house fire on April 6.
Their bodies were in the garage of their home in Marathon County, Wisconsin.
The couple had died before the fire broke out, and the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office initially described the cause of their deaths and the fire as “suspicious.”
The mysterious circumstances led to weeks of arson and murder investigations, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The Sheriff’s Office, Fire Department, and the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory found that Rodriguez and Carolfi were accidentally killed by electrocution while attempting the dangerous woodburning technique.
The couple used a disassembled microwave as their power source.
Authorities believe the equipment that caused the electrocutions also started the fire in the garage before it spread, the sheriff’s office said in a statement last week.
“Foul play has been ruled out, and the deaths appear to be coincidental in nature and believed to be caused by electrocution from fractal wood burning,” Deputy Chad Billeb said at a news conference Thursday.
The technique is gaining popularity through viral videos on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Credit: TikTok
Fractal-burning DIY videos abound online.
Professionals with experience as electricians and access to the appropriate equipment create some fractal fire art. But many who try the popular craft take apart microwave ovens or car batteries to use as power sources.
Even with the right equipment and experience, fractal combustion carries risks.
According to the American Association of Woodturners, at least 33 people have died from fractal combustion attempts since 2016, including an experienced electrician.
The group banned the use of fractal combustion at all of its events and banned articles about the practice from appearing in any of its publications to discourage attempts.
Phil McDonald, the executive director of the woodturners group, told Wisconsin Public Radio that he believes the “proliferation” of viral videos about fractal combustion has contributed to the rising number of injuries and deaths.
“The equipment can’t be made safe, and the real problem here is that there aren’t enough safeguards once those home systems are built to ensure they can be operated safely,” McDonald said.
Billeb said that while the patterns created by fractal combustion “are very beautiful, frankly, the dangers of the craft cannot be ignored.”
“Getting advice from YouTube or any other social media site to do a craft…isn’t safe when dealing with electricity,” Billeb said.