‘Beautiful’ social media trends blamed on mysterious deaths of Wisconsin couples, police say

Officials warn of the dangers of a “beautiful” TikTok trend following an investigation into two mysterious deaths in Wisconsin.

Deputies responded to a house 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 the homeowners were not found immediately upon arrival and investigators suspected fraud, Chief Deputy Chad Billeb said at a news conference streamed live by the 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 about investigating the cause of the fire.

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

After an investigation, officials discovered that the two had died of electric shock prior to the fire and their death was considered an accident, the sheriff’s office said.

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

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

The sheriff’s office said the tools used to burn firewood caused the fatal electric shock 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 want to educate the community about the dangers of fractal firewood, an art form that has gained popularity on social media like TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.”

TikTok alone has fractal burning videos and tutorials over 11 million views.

The process includes a high-voltage transformer, said Billeb, which is recycled from a microwave oven to conduct power from jump leads to the chemically soaked wood.

“This process is very dangerous and should only be carried out by trained professionals,” warned the deputy chief. “Taking advice from YouTube or other social media to make a craft or other work of art is not safe when dealing with electricity.”

Billeb said the state pathology lab had previously seen similar fatalities involving the trend.

At least 33 people have died in fractal burn accidents, according to the American Association of Woodturners.

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

Marathon County is located about 105 miles west of Green Bay.

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