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One dead as wildfires rage across Italy

Arson and heat blamed

06 August, 14:47
One dead as wildfires rage across Italy (ANSA) - Palermo, August 6 - One person is dead and about 300 tourists were evacuated from holiday spots in Sicily as at least 30 fires raged in Italian forests and fields on Monday, authorities said.

The blazes are being fought with helicopters, aeroplanes and firefighting teams on the ground, especially in Sicily, where some of the largest and most fierce blazes are burning.

Authorities in Sicily sent out nine different requests for help from the national Civil Protection Department, while the regions of Campania and Lazio, home to Italy's capital city of Rome, have each sent six requests for firefighting aid. The current heat wave that is sweeping Italy, with temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius in Sicily, has made getting the fires under control tough.

A huge fire in Castelluzzo, near the Sicilian village of San Vito Lo Capo, is scorching trees and Mediterranean scrub, and has cut off some sections of highways to resorts in the areas. More than 300 holiday visitors were forced to evacuate from popular resorts at Calampiso Sunday, and took shelter in an elementary school in nearby San Vito Lo Capo, sleeping outside in the school yard. A forestry worker was killed Saturday in the area of Castronovo di Sicilia, while fires are also burning in Monreale, Aliminusa, Borgetto, Alton, Geraci Siculus, Castelbuono, and Santa Cristina Gela.

A massive fire, believed to have been deliberately set, broke out Sunday in Trapani at the Zingaro nature reserve and although it is thought to now be under control, authorities fear that the hot dry winds of the Sirocco, blowing up from the Sahara, could rekindle the blaze.

The major of San Vito Lo Capo is concerned that his region is not getting enough help.

"The Zingaro reserve has gone up in smoke," Matteo Rizzo complained Monday, adding the fire was brought under control only because it burned itself out. "We were left alone to cope with the emergency alert... Our requests are falling on deaf ears." In Messina, aircraft and ground crews were in action in San Angelo Brolo, in Saint Lucia del Mela and Mistretta.

In the province of Syracuse, a large fire broke out at Avola, while other blazes were reported on the slopes of Mount Etna.

While the hot, dry weather across Italy can blamed for many fires, many other are man-made, forestry experts say.

From zealous farmers to hunters, trains and even high demand for electricity, about half of man-made fires are accidents and the other half driven by malice, says Marco Pezzotta, vice chief of Italy's Forestry Corps.

He urges people to always call for help when they see a fire, "and never underestimate even small fires, call the emergency number...take action before it can become a catastrophic event".

According to the forestry experts, about a quarter of man-made fires are the result of farmers burning stubble, waste, or farm equipment causing sparks on dry grass.

Hunters and poachers can send up sparks by flushing out their prey and set off a fire.

Overuse of air conditioners and other electrical devices in hot weather can overload power lines.

And even train brakes can send sparks flying into dry brush, causing fires.

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