An Australian man built up so much static electricity in his clothes as he walked that he burned carpets, melted plastic and sparked a mass evacuation. Frank Clewer, of the western Victorian city of Warrnambool, was wearing a synthetic nylon jacket and a woollen shirt when he went for a job interview.

As he walked into the building, the carpet ignited from the 40,000 volts of static electricity that had built up.

"It sounded almost like a firecracker or something like that," he said.

"Within about five minutes, the carpet started to erupt," he told Australian radio.

Considerable current

Perplexed firemen evacuated the building and cut its electricity supply, thinking the burns could have been caused by a power surge.

"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.

Mr Clewer said that after leaving the building, he scorched a piece of plastic in his car.

His clothes were measured by firemen as carrying an electrical charge of 40,000 volts, the Reuters news agency quoted Mr Barton as saying.

The fire official added that the charge was close to being high enough to cause the items to spontaneously combust.