‘Pretty’ social media trend blamed in mysterious deaths of Wisconsin pair, cops say

Officials are warning about the dangers of a “pretty” TikTok trend following an investigation into two mysterious deaths in Wisconsin.

Deputies responded to a residential fire on April 6 in Marathon County, the county sheriff’s office said in a news release on April 21.

Officials initially treated the incident as a homicide because, after arriving, the homeowners were not immediately found and investigators suspected foul play, Chief Deputy Chad Billeb said in a news conference streamed live by WSAW.

Tanya Rodriguez, 44, and James Carolfi, 52, were later found dead in the garage after the blaze had been extinguished, Billeb said, and investigators went to work to determine the cause of the fire.

“Due to the nature of this incident and the substantial damage caused by the fire, it was incredibly difficult to determine the cause of death and the series of events,” Billeb said during the news conference.

After an investigation, officials discovered that the two had died by electrocution prior to the fire, and their deaths were ruled an accident, the sheriff’s office said.

In the weeks since, officials have determined that the deadly electrocution and fire were caused by a trend that has garnered millions of views on TikTok — fractal wood burning, according to the sheriff’s office.

The technique uses high-voltage electricity to burn tree-like patterns and designs into wood that has been drenched in a chemical solution, the sheriff’s office said.

The sheriff’s office said the tools used for the wood burning caused the deadly electrocution and likely caused the fire in the garage that spread to the rest of the Wisconsin home.

“This was a tragic accident,” Billeb said. “In light of this tragedy, we’d 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.”

On TikTok alone, fractal wood burning videos and tutorials have over 11 million views.

The process includes a high-voltage transformer, Billeb said, that is repurposed from a microwave oven to flow currents from jumper cables to the chemically-soaked wood.

“This process is highly dangerous, and should only be done by trained professionals,” the declaring chief. “Taking advice from YouTube or from any other social media site in order to do a craft item or some other artwork, is not safe when you’re dealing with electricity.”

Billeb said the state’s pathology lab had seen similar deadly cases involving the trend before.

At least 33 people have died from accidents involving fractal burning, according to the American Association of Woodturners.

“It’s very pretty, quite frankly,” Billeb said. “But it should only be done by professionals.”

Marathon County is about 105 miles west of Green Bay.

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