35 Known Deaths Caused by Fractal / Lichtenberg Burning


Strong City, KS
Reported by: Emporia Gazette 
Cause confirmed by: Family
Death: Shawn Gilligan, 36
September 30, 2022

Day, WI
Reported by: Wausau Pilot & Review
Deaths: Tanya M. Rodriguez, 44; James K. Carolfi, 52
April 6, 2022

St. Paul, MN
Reported by: Friend
Death: Vincent (Vito) Calabrese
September 5, 2021

Caladonia, Ontario, Canada
Reported by: Electrical Safety Authority, Ontario
Death: Name withheld
July 10, 2021

Traverse City/Suttons Bay, MI
Reported by: Newsbreak
Death: Paul Edward Champion, age 63
June 6, 2021

Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Reported by: tbsnewswatch.com
Death: Not available
April 17, 2021

Upper Caboolture, Queensland, Australia
Reported by: Energy Source & Distribution

Death: Liam Keegan, age 17
March 23, 2021

Prineville, OR
Reported by: News Channel 21/KTVZ.com
Death: Kyle Johnson
March 16, 2021

New Middletown, IN
 Reported by: Madison Courier
Death: Andrew Lee Douglas Craig
January 26, 2021

Milton, WI
Reported by: Milton Courier
Death: Matthew Schmidt
May 14, 2020

Coleville, WA
Reported by: Family friend
Death: Female (name withheld)
April 15, 2020 (injured: April 12)

Chaska, MN
Reported by: SWNewsmedia
Death: Jeffrie Dean Smith
April 13, 2020

Apache Junction, AZ
Reported by: Calaveras Enterprise
Death: James Ronny Vance
January 7, 2020

Thornville, OH
Reported by: Friend/family member: Celina F. Humphrey
Death: Joshua Lee Lovejoy, age 38
Date of accident: December 28, 2019
January 1, 2020

Mt. Vernon, MO
Reported by: Lawrence County Record
Death: Miles Gaddy
December 5, 2019

Shoal Creek, NC
Reported by: Cherokee Scout
Death: Michelle Elliott
September 26, 2019

Alexander City, AL
Reported by: The Outlook
Death: Ronnie Wayne McDaniel
July 12, 2019

New Lenox, IL
Reported by: Rachael O'Connor (wife)
Death: James T. O'Connor III
February 20, 2019

Raytown, MO
Reported by: KCTV5 News
Death: Aaron Hall
January 23, 2019

Fort Myers Beach, FL
Reported by WINK News
Death: David Keithley
January 17, 2019

St. Clair Shores, MI
Reported by St. Clair Shores Sentinel
Death: Name withheld
January 10, 2019
Port Angeles, WA
Reported by Peninsula Daily News
Death: Richard L. Boyd
December 21, 2018

Ellensburg, WA
Reported by KING5
Death: Collin Githens
December 15, 2018

Gallup, NM
Reported by The Epoch Times
Death: Ryan Leyba
November 25, 2018

Paducah, KY
Reported by friend Matt Fabian
Death: Joey Akers
November 24, 2018

Salem, IL
Reported by Southern Illinois Now, My Journal Courier
Death: Alexander W. Carroll
November 13, 2018

Columbia, MO
Reported by close friend Alana Lundy
Death: Robert Lyon
September 26, 2018

Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Reported by ABC News Australia
Death: Name withheld
April 15, 2018

Epworth, GA
Reported by FetchYourNews/Fannin County EMA/EMS
Death: Name withheld
March 1, 2018

Chandler, AZ
Reported by Fox 6
Death: Jarret Vartanian
January 11, 2018

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England
Reported by Henley Standard
Death: Mark Sayer
August 10, 2017

North Fort Myers, FL
Reported by WINK and fiancé Melanie
Death: Frank James Gay
May 22, 2017

Walla Walla, WA
Reported by Union Bulletin
Death: Robert Riggers
May 8, 2017

Cortland, OH
Reported by WKBN
Death: Jarrett R. Hutton
July 2, 2016


Near Deaths & Devastating Injuries Caused by Fractal / Lichtenberg Burning

Utica, MI
Reported by Click on Detroit
Victims: Two teenagers and a grandmother
July 4, 2020

Salt Lake City, UT
Reported by KSLTV
Victim: Bren Timothy
December 2019

Woodworth, LA
Reported by KATC.COM
Injury: Heart restarted with defibrillator, burned hands
Victim: Bryce Young
May 2019

Tampa, FL
Reported by ABC Action News and PATCH
Injury: Heart stopped beating for 17 minutes
Victim: Wesley Stevens
February 2019

Estes Park, CO
Reported by UCHealth Today
Injury: Severely damaged hands
Victim: Melissa Strong
April 2017

St. George, UT
Reported by The Spectrum
Injury: Severe burns on hands and at least one finger amputated
Victim: Decker Haberl, Snow Canyon High School student, age 17
March 29, 2017

Fractal Burning Kills; AAW Reiterates the Dangers

June 2022

The AAW Board, through its Safety Committee, wants to re-emphasize the dangers associated with the process known as Lichtenberg, or “fractal,” burning, an embellishing technique that uses high-voltage electrical current to burn patterns on wood. This often unsafe, life-threatening practice has once again surfaced in the news and on social media, following a two-victim incident in April 2022.
In 2017, the AAW Board of Directors voted to ban any fractal-burning demonstrations and equipment sales at AAW-sponsored events. The ban prohibits displaying fractal-burned pieces at any AAW-sponsored event and promoting the practice via articles in AAW publications. Sadly, since the AAW Board adopted its policy on fractal burning in 2017, there have been thirty-three reported deaths directly attributed to fractal burning, and an unknown number of injuries and close calls.
Learn About the Hidden Dangers
Fractal burning poses a significant hidden risk of electrocution. It speaks volumes that there are no UL-rated fractal burning units commercially available. Many of the YouTube videos that show how to build these devices at home do not adequately address the inherent safety concerns. Many users think they are being safe, but the number of serious injuries and deaths says otherwise.
AAW Chapters Take Note
The AAW Board’s 2017 policy explicitly extends its position to its chapters: “AAW-chartered chapters are strongly urged to refrain from demonstrating or featuring the process in chapter events.” Yet the practice persists at the chapter level. The AAW Safety Committee, with endorsement from the Board of Directors, requests once again that its members and chapter leaders join in the AAW’s efforts to discourage the use of fractal burning. Do not promote the practice via newsletter articles or social media posts, and do not allow fractal-burned pieces to be displayed in instant galleries, exhibitions, at chapter meetings, or on chapter websites.
Further, due to liability concerns, the AAW Board has decided to disallow chapters that promote, demonstrate, or allow the use of fractal burning to be eligible to obtain, or renew, insurance through the AAW for their chapter.
—AAW Safety Committee: John Beechwood III (Chair), Steve Pritchard, Kevin Jesequel

Christopher C. Richardson, DO, is a physician who published in 2020 a case study on a patient that suffered extensive injuries due to a fractal wood burning. This is the first full length article to be published on this type of high-voltage injury. Dr. Richardson say more needs to be done to promote awareness of the dangers of this practice. The link to the publication: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/emp2.12330

Fractal burning has killed and could kill you.

July 2021

The American Association of Woodturners has banned the use of this process at all of its events and has banned articles about use of a fractal burner in all of its publications.

The reported cases of fractal burning deaths range from hobbyist woodworkers through experienced woodworkers to an electrician with many years experience working with electricity. It only takes one small mistake and you are dead; not injured, dead. Some of those who died were experienced at using the process and some were not. What is common to all of them: fractal burning killed them.

High voltage electricity is an invisible killer; the user cannot see the danger.  It is easy to see the danger of a spinning saw blade. It is very obvious that coming into contact with a moving blade will cause an injury, but in almost all cases a spinning blade will not kill you. With fractal burning, one small mistake and you are dead.

This is true whether you are using a homemade device or a manufactured one.

There are many ways to express your creativity. Do not use fractal burning. If you have a fractal burner, throw it away. If you are looking into fractal burning, stop right now and move on to something else. This could save your life.

—Rick Baker, Chair, AAW Safety Committee

Another Warning About Fractal/Lichtenberg Burners

In AAW’s effort to continue to discourage people from making or using fractal burners we have copied, from the government website, a warning from the Ontario, Canada government below. As of this writing, July 2021, there have been 30 people killed using a fractal burner that we know of. There are definitely more, but they just haven’t been reported in the media.

ESA Issues Warning on the Dangers of Lichtenberg Generators, July 15, 2021

With five fatalities and one critical injury in the last several years within the province, the Electrical Safety Authority of Ontario (ESA) is warning against using high voltage energy sources such as microwave oven transformers or similar components to manufacture fractal wood-burning devices called Lichtenberg generators.

While used to create art and abstract objects by burning fractal patterns into various materials such as wood and acrylic, these generators are extremely dangerous. They contain live accessible wiring components and are unsafe for any use or handling. Both homemade and pre-built Lichtenberg generators are considered to have the potential to seriously injure and/or kill the user.

Lichtenberg generators may also have counterfeit electrical safety approval labels applied to them to falsely indicate they are safe and approved.

Despite what consumers see on the Internet or how these generators are marketed, it is critical to understand that they are unapproved by Certification Bodies / Inspection bodies applicable to Canadian consumers and have not been evaluated or tested to any known electrical safety standards for this type of product.

Resulting deaths and injuries are completely preventable but are increasing in frequency. There have been two fatalities involving these devices in the past three months in Ontario.   

Consumers should never attempt to build a Lichtenberg Generator and any that exist in the marketplace or are offered for sale should be considered unsafe and reported to ESA or Health Canada immediately.


ESA Warns of Unsafe Use of Electrical Equipment to Manufacture Lichtenberg Generators

The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA)[Ontario, Canada], is warning against using high voltage energy sources such as microwave oven transformers or similar components to manufacture Lichtenberg generators. These generators are used to create art and abstract objects by burning fractal patterns into various materials such as wood and acrylic.  Fatalities or critical injuries to hobbyists making and using these devices in their home can occur and they have.

Do not attempt to assemble or use a Lichtenberg generator for any purpose. They are extremely dangerous, contain live accessible wiring and components, and are unsafe for any use or handling. Both homemade and pre-built Lichtenberg generators are considered to have the potential to seriously injure and / or kill the user.  

ESA is aware of two incidents in Ontario involving these generators that were used in an unsafe manner:

  • One incident resulted in a fatality  
  • One incident resulted in life threatening critical injuries  

All of these generators, whether homemade or purchased, are unapproved by Certification Bodies / Inspection Bodies, have not been evaluated or tested to any Canadian safety standards and do not bear any recognized Canadian electrical safety certification marks

These generators are reportedly homemade, using instructions on the internet, and are assembled with parts and components that are obtained from a variety of sources and are not approved for this type of use.

Some of these generators are marketed as complete products and indicate that they are built with approved / certified components.  However, the overall product has not been evaluated to any known electrical safety standard(s) for this type of product, as applicable to Canadian consumers and marketplace.  

How To Report Unsafe Electrical Products [in Canada]:

  • ESA is aware that generators exist in the marketplace and are offered for sale. When reported, suppliers within ESA’s jurisdiction will be contacted.  Consumers / hobbyists are encouraged to contact ESA at 1877-ESA-SAFE or complete the online Product Safety Reporting Form.
  • Lichtenberg generators may have counterfeit electrical safety approval labels applied to them to falsely indicate that they are safe.  Should you find a generator that appears to have a certification or approval mark do not purchase or use it and please contact ESA or Health Canada immediately with the supplier details.

The disassembling of products such as a microwave oven and / or similar devices or appliances with the purpose of removing the high voltage transformer and other parts to build these generators are in breach of Ontario Regulation 438/07 Product Safety and 164/99 Ontario Electrical Safety Code.  Please be advised that a person or company in Ontario that contravenes the foregoing Regulation may be prosecuted and upon conviction subject to fines up to $50,000 and / or one-year imprisonment.

Another Death Caused by Fractal Burning

Editor’s Note, American Woodturner, February 2019

Sadly, I have just learned of yet another preventable death from the dangerous practice of fractal burning, and my heart goes out to the victim’s family and friends. We know of at least six deaths from this cause since 2017, the latest being a retired high school art teacher. As with other fractal-burning-related deaths, this victim was using a homemade rig made using a transformer from a microwave oven. But the inherent risk of electrocution remains, regardless of the equipment used.

Many woodturners (and woodworkers) use fractal burning to embellish their projects, despite the AAW’s official warning statement about the dangers. The statement was published in the August 2017 issue of American Woodturner (page 5) and is available on the AAW website at tiny.cc/AAWfractal. Please take a few moments to read and consider this serious warning. Also, spread the word about the hidden dangers of this practice by warning others—you could save someone from an accidental but preventable death. —Joshua Friend

Lichtenberg, or “Fractal,” Burning: Be Aware of the Risks!

American Woodturner, August 2017

Lichtenberg, or “fractal,” burning is a relatively new embellishing technique that uses high-voltage electrical current to produce patterns on wood resembling lightning flashes. (Lichtenberg patterns were first documented by physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg in 1777; a “fractal” is a type of repeating pattern that sometimes looks like a Lichtenberg figure.) The technique’s popularity has grown rapidly among woodturners. YouTube has many videos demonstrating the technique, and it is easy to find instructions on the Internet for making Lichtenberg burners inexpensively at home.

While its use has been growing, knowledge of its dangers has not. Some of those YouTube videos show practices and equipment that can easily kill you. Use of under-rated components, improper insulation, absence of properly rated personal protection equipment (PPE), and lack of training in the handling of high-voltage apparatus highlight the multiple risks associated with the use of this technique. At least two people have died recently and others have been involved in high-risk incidents, apparently as a result of doing Lichtenberg burning.

AAW’s response

As a response to these fatalities and incidents, and based on the recommendation of the chair of the AAW Safety Committee, the AAW Board of Directors adopted the following policy on May 17, 2017:

It is the policy of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW) that the process known as Fractal Burning is prohibited from being used in any AAW-sponsored events, including regional and national symposia, and that AAW-chartered chapters are strongly urged to refrain from demonstrating or featuring the process in chapter events. Further, the process of Fractal Burning shall not be featured in any written or online AAW publication, except for within articles that warn against its use. AAW publications will not accept advertisements for any products or supplies directly related to the process.

The AAW realizes that this new policy may need further clarification as it is implemented. While the AAW may prohibit the practice from being used during AAW National Symposia, it has no direct legal authority over regional events and cannot technically prohibit demonstrations at regional symposia. Further, chapters are not actually prohibited, but are strongly urged to refrain from featuring the process. While chapters are free to display pieces and/or publish photos of them in chapter newsletters, the AAW strongly urges chapters to refrain from encouraging the use of this highly dangerous process in any way. The AAW is an educational organization, not a regulatory body. In matters of judgment, the AAW must err on the side of safety when educating its members.

Why Lichtenberg burning is dangerous

Lichtenberg burning works by passing electricity at very high voltage between two electrodes while they are in contact with a piece of wood. An electrolyte (a solution that conducts electricity) is often placed on the wood to help the electricity move between the two electrodes. The electricity seeks the path of least resistance while generating heat along the wood surface and between the electrodes, burning the wood as it goes.

Electrocution happens when high-voltage electricity enters through any part of the body, passes across the heart, and then exits the body. If you grabbed one electrode of a Lichtenberg burner in each hand while the voltage is on, the electricity could flow from one hand, across your heart, and out the other hand. This could stop your heart and kill you. Accidental skin contact with an energized electrode, the electrolyte, a loose wire, or even standing on a conductive floor can all contribute to conditions causing electrocution.

In addition to voltage, the burner’s level of amperes, or “amps”—a measure of electrical current—is also important; the greater the amps, the greater the risk. Furthermore, the transformer, wire, insulators, and other components used to construct a Lichtenberg burner also contribute to the risks of using it if they are not properly rated. Simply getting a Lichtenberg burner with very low amperage and made from correctly rated, quality components may not be sufficient to protect the user. Even low-amperage current can stop a beating heart if it passes through at the wrong moment. If the burner is capable of burning Lichtenberg figures in wood, it is capable of hurting or killing the user.

This means, at minimum, that the user of a Lichtenberg burner needs to take extraordinary and unusual precautions, including wearing appropriately rated insulating protective gear, locating the wood on an insulating surface that is not grounded, and making sure the user’s body does not come into contact with the object being burned or anything that is grounded. Following these precautions, however, cannot guarantee safety.

In short, many variables exist when using this technique that can make the difference between a safe experience and pain or death. The AAW believes that those variables are not sufficiently understood or adequately controlled for Lichtenberg burning to be considered reasonably safe and therefore prohibits the demonstration of Lichtenberg burning techniques at its Symposia.

Lichtenberg burning vs. other risks

Since woodturning itself is inherently dangerous, some readers may question why the AAW has chosen to focus on the risks of Lichtenberg burning. Woodturning techniques have been developed over many, many years, allowing woodturners to learn a great deal about the things that put them at risk. That learning does not yet exist for Lichtenberg burning, which is quite new. While there are well-established procedures for handling high voltage and industry standards for the design of high-voltage electrical equipment, no specific safety standards exist for Lichtenberg burning, per se, and the use of high voltages related to decorative wood embellishing.

In regard to the risks related to turning wood, most are fairly well known, if not obvious. Few turners are not aware of the dangers of flying wood objects, toxic wood dust and other harmful materials, as well as the need for adequate PPE. The risks from Lichtenberg burning, on the other hand, are largely hidden and the standards for personal protection poorly understood. Incorrect assumptions can easily lead to injury or death.

Lichtenberg burning is not a core activity for the majority of woodturners; it is just one method of embellishing a turning or other wooden object. The AAW does not feel it has either the responsibility or the expertise to help develop adequate safety standards for Lichtenberg burning. The AAW therefore expects that this policy will remain as part of the general safety practice for its Symposia until validated standards and practices are in place.

If you engage in the activity of Lichtenberg burning despite these warnings, please research the technique and risks carefully, consult with people who have significant experience working with high-voltage electricity, wear adequate protective gear, choose your equipment and its components very carefully, and take extraordinary precautions. All of this will not be enough to guarantee your safety but may help reduce your risk.

The AAW Safety Committee and Board of Directors strongly recommend woodturners avoid the risk altogether, by refraining from the use of Lichtenberg burning techniques.

—John Ellis, AAW Board Member and Chair, AAW Safety Committee
—Rob Wallace, Former Chair, AAW Safety Committee
—Harvey Rogers, AAW Safety Committee