"It's very pretty, quite frankly. But it should only be done by professionals."
A Wisconsin couple who mysteriously died in "unexplained" circumstances were attempting a dangerous form of art made popular on TikTok, investigators have revealed.
Tanya Rodriguez, 44, and James Carolfi, 52, were electrocuted while "fractal burning" — the process of creating intricate designs on wood using high-voltage electricity, according to Marathon County Sheriff's Department.
On Wednesday April 6, firefighters were dispatched to a structure fire in Rozellville; they were initially unable to locate the homeowners, and found evidence that suggested foul play.
"For this reason, we initially treated this incident as a homicide," Marathon County Deputy Chad Billeb told a press conference.
After finally extinguishing the blaze, they found the two dead bodies in the garage.
"Due to the nature of this incident and the substantial damage caused by this fire, it was incredibly difficult to determine the cause of death, and the series of events," Billeb said.
After a two-week investigation, they learned that both victims had died before the fire broke out — and that it had been accidental, "believed to be caused by electrocution, from fractal wood burning."
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"Fractal wood burning is a technique in which high-voltage electricity is used to burn lightning or a tree-like pattern into wood that has been soaked in a chemical solution," Billeb explained. (example pictured above)
The fire, he said, started in the garage where the couple were working on their project, before it spread throughout the rest of the home. The fractal wood burning equipment, he added, was likely responsible for both the electrocutions and the resulting blaze.
"This was a tragic accident," Billeb said. "And in light of this tragedy we would 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."
He said that would-be artists typically repurposed a high-voltage transformer — usually taken from a deconstructed microwave oven — to send the current across the chemical-soaked wood.
The process involves connecting the microwave's power supply to nails hammered into the board, via jumper cables — which the description alone should be enough to make most people steer clear.
"This process is highly dangerous and should only be done by trained professionals," the deputy warned. "We would caution the public to refrain from doing it."
Billeb credited the pathologist for solving the mystery — who recognized the injuries, having seen them before; the couple were not the first people to die trying it.
"It's very pretty, quite frankly," the Deputy added of the art form. "But it should only be done by professionals."