Palermo homes evacuated

Airborne firefighters Agrigento, Messina, Trapani provinces

(ANSA) - Rome, June 16 - Palermo homes were evacuated and over 15,000 consumers lost electricity in the surrounding province due to wildfires stoked by strong southern winds, the civil protection department said Thursday. The raging wildfires blocked roads, caused evacuations, and damaged homes, hotels and factories while authorities fielded 12 requests for airborne firefighters to help quench blazes in Agrigento, Messina, Palermo and Trapani provinces. However strong winds have so prevented regional and national firefighting aircraft and helicopters from intervening, officials said. The city of Palermo has been enveloped for a dense cloud of smoke for hours, making the air unbreathable and reducing visibility. Some 50 nursery-school children were overcome by fumes from a fire on Monte Caputo at Monreale near Palermo earlier in the day and taken to hospital while the school was evacuated. As well, fire and forest services saved a girl trapped by the flames in her villa. Several homes have been evacuated and suffered fire damage.
    The interior ministry said it is coordinating local and regional law enforcement, civil protection and firefighting authorities to battle the blazes, rescue people in distress, and make sure the population is safe.
    Sicily, like Sardinia and other parts of southern Italy, is plagued by arsonists' wildfires every summer.