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SYDNEY (Reuters) - 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.

"Within about five minutes, the carpet started to erupt."

Employees, unsure of the cause of the mysterious burning smell, telephoned firefighters who evacuated the building.

"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.

Firefighters cut electricity to the building thinking the burns might have been caused by a power surge.

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.

"I've been firefighting for over 35 years and I've never come across anything like this," he said.

Firefighters took possession of Clewer's jacket and stored it in the courtyard of the fire station, where it continued to give off a strong electrical current.

David Gosden, a senior lecturer in electrical engineering at Sydney University, told Reuters that for a static electricity charge to ignite a carpet, conditions had to be perfect.

"Static electricity is a similar mechanism to lightning, where you have clouds rubbing together and then a spark generated by very dry air above them," said Gosden.

Edited by bozodog

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Wow!!! Now I was told that the reason I fry "watch innards" is that I have too much of an electrical charge in my system (I can't get out of a car without getting shocked and those darned automatic doors at grocery stores don't like to open for me either...can't walk near a radio without it going staticy--you wonder why electronic things scare me???) But wow, I never fried carpeting!!!! That coat could solve our energy crisis!

Liz

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Hahahahaha! Never thought about that coat. Hey Blim, my mom is the same way, never was able to wear a watch. Guess it just goes to show you're not as "grounded" as you should be. Heh heh. Although she did find an inexpensive, crystal, battry powered one works just fine. (you just have to vibrate at 60 cycles, remember?)

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Hey Bozodog, glad to hear your Mom has the same 'glitch'! Most people just think I'm crazy (OK, I can see that....) Tell her that "supposably" digital watches are supposed to work if she fries the one she has. I just got so used to not wearing a watch that I never tried a digital...can't read them anyways :)

Liz

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