The deaths of two people in Wisconsin are being blamed on electrocution caused by a woodburning technique that's popular on TikTok but banned by a trade group. The bodies of Tanya Rodriguez, 44, and James Carolfi, 52, were found after a house fire, but the Marathon County Sheriff's Office said they died before the fire broke out, USA Today reports. Officials said the deaths were accidental. The pair were electrocuted while fractal woodburning, they said—a technique in which lightning-shaped patterns are burned into wood that has been soaked in a chemical solution with high-voltage electricity.
The artistic technique is popular on Facebook and YouTube, as well. The American Association of Woodturners says at least 33 people have died as a result of the process. "The fractal burning process typically uses a high-voltage transformer, often repurposed from a microwave oven," said Deputy Chad Billeb said, adding that "this process is highly dangerous and should only be done by trained professionals." The nonprofit's safety committee banned the practice in 2017.
Experts say the technique is unsafe at home, per Wisconsin Public Radio. It involves using jumper cables to run a high-voltage current from the microwave parts across wood. "You can see the potential danger that's there," Billeb said. One posted video shows a car battery being used. The people killed include experienced woodworkers and even an electrician, the AAW says. "The equipment can't be made safely," the group's director said, "and the real issue here is that there are not enough safeguards once those home-based systems are built to ensure that they can be operated safely." (Read more accidental death stories.)