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jamotto

Watt was that?

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A polyester jacket caused 36,000 volts to surge through a Victorian man's body and leave burn marks wherever he walked.

Warrnambool cleaner Frank Clewer, 58, briefly became the most powerful man in town thanks to the static electricity in his clothing.

Amazingly he was unharmed. The charge was enough to burn seven holes in synthetic carpet and burn the floor of his car.

Experts are baffled, but this bright spark was left chuckling.

"My wife has told me I'm not allowed to put on the electric blanket tonight and I'm going to have to lay off the surfing because I'll stun the sharks and we'll have fried flake in the bay," he said.

The mystery began on Thursday when small round burns appeared in the carpet of an office, and staff alerted the fire brigade.

Concerned by the burning smell and crackling noises, officer in charge Henry Barton evacuated the office and turned the power off in three buildings -- but to no avail.

Tearing up carpet and examining wiring in the ceiling failed to detect the cause. Staff did not think to connect the burns with Mr Clewer, who had been there minutes earlier for a job interview.

It wasn't until Mr Clewer returned to the office and told fire officers he also had burn marks on the floor of his car the cause was discovered.

Officers ordered a stunned Mr Clewer to strip, and used a static electricity monitoring device to measure the electric current in his clothes.

They were astounded to discover the static charge in his polyester jacket, which was worn with a woollen shirt, registered 36,000 volts.

"We've concluded that it was a build-up of static electricity on Frank generated by the clothing he was wearing at the time and his movement," Mr Barton said.

"The charge was quite significant and it could have been harmful to him.

"I have absolutely never heard of this happening in more than 30 years in this job," he said.

Allan Driver, general manager of use safety at Energy Safe Victoria, said the case was "bizarre and unusual".

"I'm a bit baffled and can't really explain it," he said.

"When it comes to static it's not the voltage that's important, it's the current.

"The current is usually very low but needs to be discharged somehow.

"Static electricity usually is caused by the interaction between different types of materials a person is wearing.

"Unlike the 240 volts from an electrical wire, that is flowing, static electricity has very little current so is usually harmless."

By comparison, he said, lightning was more than several hundred thousand volts.

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