Wisconsin Couple Electrocuted to Death While Attempting 'Dangerous' Social Media Trend

A Wisconsin man and woman were found dead after a house fire this month were electrocuted while attempting to make art using a TikTok trend called fractal wood burning, according to local authorities.

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 while practicing fractal wood burning TikTok trend in the garage of their home in Rozellville, according to WSAW-TV.

The sheriff's office said the deaths were accidental and that they believe the victims were killed by electrocution from the artistic technique that has gained popularity on social media sites including TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.

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.

What is Fractal Burning Wood?

fractal burning wood
An example of fractal burning wood (left) and the aftermath of the house fire sparked by the fractal-wood burning equipment. Twitter

Fractal burning is a process that uses high-voltage electricity to create art on wood. The fractal burning process typically uses a high-voltage transformer, often repurposed from a microwave oven, to flow current across wood items that have been soaked with a chemical solution to create lightning -shaped designs on to the wood.

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.

A 'Dangerous' Trend

At least 33 people have died as a result of fractal burning, according to the American Association of Woodturners (AAW). The body has since banned the technique from being used in any AAW-sponsored events or being featured in online or written AAW-publications.

In May 2020, 35-year-old Wisconsin man Matt Schmidt lost his life while performing the technique for the first time. His wife Caitlin told the Milton Courier that Schmidt had become interested in fractal burning just a month or so before his death. She said they watched videos together about the technique - neither realizing it was dangerous.

In July that year, an 18-year-old suffered severe electrical burns to his lungs after he lost his balance and fell on a live transformer he had taken out of a microwave. He then apparently fell on his girlfriend, shocking her, who then fell onto her grandmother.

In January 2019, a Michigan man was found dead inside his garage in suburban Detroit. Investigators found the man's severely burned body near fractal burning equipment.