"It happens some times. People just explode."

Power-dressing man leaves trail of destruction
An Australian man built up a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity in his clothes as he walked, leaving a trail of scorched carpet and molten plastic and forcing firefighters to evacuate a building.

Frank Clewer, who was wearing a woolen shirt and a synthetic nylon jacket, was oblivious to the growing electrical current that was building up as his clothes rubbed together. When he walked into a building in the country town of Warrnambool in the southern state of Victoria Thursday, the electrical charge ignited the carpet.

"It sounded almost like a firecracker," Clewer told Australian radio Friday.

"There were several scorch marks in the carpet, and we could hear a cracking noise -- a bit like a whip -- both inside and outside the building," said fire official Henry Barton.

Clewer, who after leaving the building discovered he had scorched a piece of plastic on the floor of his car, returned to seek help from the firefighters.

"We tested his clothes with a static electricity field meter and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion, where his clothes would have self-ignited," Barton said.


39 Responses:

  1. rzrxtion says:

    yet another from the "truth is stranger than fiction" files?

    that is wicked freaky!!!!

  2. rosefox says:

    But they didn't say what brand the jacket was! I bet people would rush to buy it.

  3. mstyne says:

    I'm calling bullshit on this one. Somebody get Jamie Hyneman on the phone.

  4. ronbar says:

    A current of 40,000 volts is a bit of an oxymoron.

    It's hard to imagine how he managed to exit his car and enter the building without touching anything even remotely conductive on either the car or the building.

    • lars_larsen says:

      They might as well have said "a current of 40,000 grams"

      WTF? Who's the idiot? The reporter? Or the guy who doesn't know how to read his meter?

    • steer says:

      If you've ever played with a Van Der Graff generator you'll realise it's perfectly feasible to walk around charged up with static for a long while (car door handles, door knobs etc do not tend to have a good path to earth). A small VDG can easily get a pd into the quarter million volt range (the current will be in micro amps though).

      • ronbar says:

        That's not what I've experienced personally. Every time I get out of a car in the winter and I'm wearing pants with any amount of rayon or polyester in them, I get zapped to hell as soon as I touch any part of the door. Even the cheap plastic-with-metal-painted-on interior door handle on the old pickup zaps me.

        The ones that hurt the worst are the visible sparks. It doesn't hurt at all if I tightly grip a key and touch the metal with the key. Unfortunately I look like a dork doing that and I don't remember until it's too late anyway.

  5. daltsy says:

    OMG, that's my home city... I think I know his daughter. LMFAO!

    • paracelsvs says:

      So do us all a favor and go over there and ask if this story is totally bullshit or what.

      One thing is for sure, it didn't happen the way the news reports say, because that would violate all kinds of laws of physics.

  6. bluknight says:

    Wow. I'm impressed.

    Lesse here, if we buy a couple of treadmills and hire a couple of bums at min wage, dress them in that clothing and find some way to harness the charge... I think we'd have a way to power a datacenter pretty cheaply. Harness the bum population of the Bay Area? Your power problems are solved, dude!


    • phoenixredux says:

      Yes, but have you seen the physique of the average bum? I just don't know how feasable that idea is.

      However, if we applied that concept to small children, who we all know have limitless untapped supplies of energy, well, we could certainly solve the fossil fuel crisis within our lifetimes! That is, if we can keep the little buggers from incinerating themselves...

    • dossy says:

      I'm surprised you didn't say "harness the bum population of the Gulf Coast Area" -- oh, that would have been politically insensitive.

      But, I hear there's a bunch of unemployed, displaced people down there. "Forget food and clothes donations: send wool, nylon and treadmills to the Astrodome. We're going to use Hurricane Katrina to bring about a new form of renewable energy: bums!"

  7. taiganaut says:

    Well, 40,000 volts isn't a current, but that's still pretty impressive. It reminds me of a trick I figured out as a child, living in North Dakota where the air is extremely dry during the winter.

    We got new playground equipment installed at my elementary school, including a plastic twisty slide. I soon learned that going down the slide on a dry winter day would cause a static charge to build up on my body. So I made a metal rod out of a coathanger and I'd go down the slide about 5 times and then shock the shit out of people with my death wand.

    As usual, the clueless playground supervisors had no idea what I was doing, and the reason I finally got it taken away was because I could poke somebody's eye out, and not because I was gleefully delivering painful shocks to my victims.

  8. fastfwd says:

    I used to date a guy like that...

  9. tfofurn says:

    As is all too frequently the case, a shocking lack of pictures. Surely this is an outfit of sufficient historical significance to merit a photographer.

  10. Are electricity field meters standard fire fighter equipment?

    • ultranurd says:

      Maybe they have to deal with downed power lines and exploded transformers?

      • lars_larsen says:

        Person is unconcious and bleeding in car smashed into power pole.

        Is the power off? Do you wait for the power company morons to get there to verify the scene is safe? Or do you test for an electric field from a safe distance from the downed wire?

        Thats my guess.

        • tfofurn says:

          They could also use it to confirm that the EPO Switch has actually done its job.

          • lars_larsen says:

            Yes, and when crawling around in the dark in a burning building spraying water everywhere, its nice to know if you're about to step into a pool of water that contains enough charge to blow you right out of your boots.

  11. kaneda_khan says:

    One step shy? Holy crap lions!

    Wait … how many "steps" are there per kilovolt? And is it really "spontaneous combustion" after you've constantly added energy?

  12. dossy says:

    Headline should have been:

    "God tries to punish man for poor clothing choice, but fails."

  13. ...Natural causes. I love Repo Man it is one of my favorite movies of all time.

  14. gths says:

    Only in country Victoria would someone wear wool with nylon.