Officials are warning of the dangers of a “pretty” TikTok trend following an investigation into two mysterious deaths in Wisconsin.
deputies responded to a residential fire April 6 in Marathon County, the county sheriff’s office said in an April 21 news release.
Officials initially treated the incident as a homicide because, after their arrival, the owners were not immediately located and investigators suspected foul play, Deputy Chief Chad Billeb said during a press conference broadcast live by WSAW.
Tanya Rodriguez, 44, and James Carolfi, 52, were later found dead in the garage after the fire was extinguished, Billeb said, and investigators set to work to determine the cause of the fire .
“Due to the nature of this incident and the extensive damage caused by the fire, it was incredibly difficult to determine the cause of death and the series of events,” Billeb said at the press conference.
After an investigation, officials found the two had died of electrocution before the fire, and their deaths were ruled an accident, the sheriff’s office said.
In the weeks that followed, officials determined that the fatal electrocution and fire were caused by a trend that garnered millions of views on TikTok — fractal wood burning, according to the sheriff’s office.
The technique uses high-voltage electricity to etch tree-like designs and patterns into wood soaked in a chemical solution, the sheriff’s office said.
The sheriff’s office said the tools used for burning the wood caused the fatal electrocution and likely caused the fire in the garage that spread to the rest of the Wisconsin home.
“It was a tragic accident,” Billeb said. “In light of this tragedy, we would like to educate the community about the dangers of fractal wood burning, an art form that has gained popularity on social media sites such as TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.”
Fractal wood burning videos and tutorials on TikTok alone have been viewed over 11 million times.
The process includes a high-voltage transformer, Billeb said, which is repurposed from a microwave oven to run currents from the jumper cables to the chemical-soaked wood.
“This process is very dangerous and should only be done by trained professionals,” the deputy chief warned. “Receiving advice on YouTube or any other social media site for making a craft or other work of art is not safe when dealing with electricity.”
Billeb said the state pathology lab has seen similar fatal cases involving the trend before.
At least 33 people died of accidents involving fractal combustion, according to the American Association of Woodturners.
“It’s very pretty, very frankly,” Billeb said. “But this should only be done by professionals.”
Marathon County is approximately 105 miles west of Green Bay.