In a case that initially perplexed officers, the Wisconsin couple Tanya Rodriguez, 44, and James Carolfi, 52, were found dead in their garage on April 6 after their house was ablaze. In what was initially suspected to be a homicide, officers have since revealed that the couple’s deaths likely resulted from a tragic accident while trying to replicate a wood-burning art technique that has recently become popular online.

In a press conference last week, the chief deputy of the Marathon County Sheriff’s office Chad Billeb announced that “foul play has been ruled out, and the deaths are ruled accidental in nature and believed to be caused by electrocution from fractal wood burning.”

Fractal wood burning has gone viral on TikTok and the app says the hashtag “#fractalburning” has over 11.3 million combined views. By sending an electrical current through a basic solution slathered on the wood, it causes an intricate fractal design called a Lichtenburg figure because it was discovered by physicist Georg Lichtenburg in the 18th century.

The process certainly looks impressive on social media, but it has reportedly cost over 33 people their lives since 2016. The dangerous element comes with needing a powerful electric source to trigger the burns. It was discovered Rodriguez and Carolfi had disassembled their microwave in the garage as the power source, which can be extremely dangerous even for an experienced electrician.


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“High voltage electricity is an invisible killer; the user cannot see the danger. It is very easy to see the danger of a spinning saw blade,” a statement by Rick Baker of the American Association of Woodturners said. “With fractal burning, one small mistake and you are dead. This is true whether you are using a homemade device or a manufactured one.”

It’s been officially ruled that Rodriguez and Carolfi passed away due to acute electrocution prior to the fire that then swept through their house.

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