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Wisconsin man, woman electrocuted to death while trying 'highly dangerous' TikTok art trend

Melissa Siegler
Wausau Daily Herald

MARATHON COUNTY, Wis. – Two people found dead after a house fire this month were electrocuted while making art with a "highly dangerous" method called fractal wood burning, local officials said.

The Marathon County Sheriff's Office identified the victims as Tanya M. Rodriguez, 44, and James K. Carolfi, 52. An investigation found Rodriguez and Carolfi died April 6 before the fire, WSAW-TV reported.

The sheriff's office said the deaths were accidental and that they believe the victims were killed by electrocution from fractal wood burning, an artistic technique that has gained popularity on social media sites including TikTok, Facebook and YouTube. The technique consists of burning lightning-shaped patterns into wood using high-voltage electricity after the wood has been soaked in a chemical solution.

At least 33 people have died as a result of fractal burning, according to the American Association of Woodturners.

In 2017, the AAW Safety Committee banned fractal burning after a woodworker in Washington was reportedly killed while using the method.

"The fractal burning process typically uses a high voltage transformer, often repurposed from a microwave oven," Deputy Chad Billeb said. "... This process is highly dangerous and should only be done by trained professionals."

Popular TikTok videos featuring fractural burning techniques have received upwards of 1 million views. Videos show people connecting electric wires to a wooden surface and running an electric current through the wood, causing the wood to catch fire and designs to appear. The wooden surface can then be cleaned and sanded down. Few videos appear to include detailed safety precautions.

The sheriff's office believes the equipment the individuals used for the fractal wood burning caused the electrocutions and also likely caused the fire, which started in the garage and spread to the rest of the home.

Follow Melissa Siegler on Twitter at @Marie2Melissa.