Setter of Sicily mystery fires arrested

Unexplained blazes stumped locals, experts

(ANSA) - Messina, March 5 - Italian police say they have finally solved the riddle of fires in a small Sicilian fishing village that have kept experts guessing for the last 10 years, variously ascribed to spontaneous combustion, strange sources of electrical power and even the hand of the devil himself.
    Police on Thursday arrested a man in the village near Messina in Sicily suspected of setting the spate of mysterious fires to get government aid.
    Giuseppe Pezzino, 26, was arrested for allegedly starting the blazes that have baffled locals since 2004 with the help of his father, who was placed under investigation.
    Pezzino was first placed under investigation in October when Carabinieri paramilitary police searched 11 homes and several vehicles in the hamlet of Canneto di Caronia, where cases of apparent spontaneous combustion have been dumbfounding residents and experts alike for more than 10 years.
    Giuseppe Pezzino, 25, was probed in connection with incidents that took place between July and October last year, police said.
    He allegedly set fire to home appliances in an apparent attempt to have them billed as unexplained phenomena that qualified for cash aid, authorities said.
    The local mayor remained unconvinced that a human being might well be behind the mysterious fires that have been plaguing his hamlet.
    "I myself, along with law enforcement and national journalists, have seen objects burst into flames out of nowhere," said Mayor Calogero Beringheli.
    Beginning in February 2004, items ranging from air conditioning units, fuse boxes, refrigerators and washing machines to microwave ovens and a car appear to have gone up in spontaneous combustion.
    Canneto, which consists of a single street positioned between a railway line and the sea, was evacuated in March 2004 after a spate of blazes.
    After months of inconclusive tests by scientists, authorities allowed residents to return to their homes.
    The fires then resumed when three electrical sockets caught fire.
    Villagers watched as geologists, electricians, telephone technicians and police investigators played cat-and-mouse with the mysterious phenomena.
    The dozens of scientists and researchers brought in to explain the fires - apparently caused by sudden rushes of electrical power - never managed to witness an outbreak as it happened and to monitor it.
    At one stage in the 2004 inquiries, an engineer said Max Planck's quantum theory and Albert Einstein's photon theory were implicated in an underground energy accumulation that had been channelled upwards via a network of wires to cause the "spontaneous combustion." In October 2004 Sicilian regional authorities asked the Rome government to declare a state of emergency in the village after the nine-month spate of fires.
    Declaring a state of emergency would release cash from a special state fund set aside to cope with national disasters such as earthquakes or severe flooding.
    An investigating magistrate arrived in Canneto to open a probe into the blazes that had been plaguing the small fishing village.
    Magistrate Enza Napoli was accompanied by engineering expert Franco Valenti, who was hired by the seaside village's 42 inhabitants to investigate the case.
    After months of inconclusive tests by scientists, authorities allowed residents to return to their homes.
    Police at the time ruled out a possible pyromaniac or hoaxer after seeing electrical wires burst into flames.
    Valenti and many of the residents were convinced the problem was caused by grounding wires running off the nearby railway tracks. They thought the wires could be causing a buildup of electrical energy.
    But railway officials said the local line conforms to safety norms and was identical to the track system in use throughout the country.
    Some residents, meanwhile, continued to believe the fires were the work of the devil.
   

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