Southern Europe Swelters as Heatwave Sparks Wildfires

July 13, 2017

A heatwave is rolling across southern Europe, fuelling wildfires, exacerbating droughts in Italy and Spain and leading the Greek authorities to close some of the most popular tourist sites.

Blazes have broken out across southern Italy and Sicily, where the temperatures have climbed above 40C this week.

Wildfires near the Calampiso seaside resort west of Palermo, the Sicilian capital, forced the evacuation by boat of more than 700 tourists on Wednesday night.

About 10 people were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation but there were no reports of serious injuries. The resort will remain closed until the weekend.

“The fire didn’t enter the village and everyone was evacuated. It is safer now,” said Anna Maria Como, from the mayoral office of the nearby town of San Vito Lo Capo. By Thursday morning, the fires were under control.

About 23 wildfires raged in southern Italy on Wednesday, including on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius near Naples.

Smoke has been billowing across Naples and nearby areas for days, raising fears that the volcano was erupting. Tourists have been advised to stay away from the area.

Italy’s environment minister said a man had been arrested on suspicion of arson. “If someone set fire to Vesuvius, I want to see them in jail for 15 years,” Gian Luca Galletti was quoted as saying in Italian media.

He added that a decision would be made in the next few hours about whether to send the army to the affected areas.

The World Wildlife Fund said thousands of people, animals and a nature reserve were at risk around the volcano. “The situation is extreme, so extraordinary action needs to be taken,” it said.

Two big fires also broke out in an area north of Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, in the Sicilian city of Catania.

High temperatures compounded by strong winds enabled the fires to spread after months of below-average rainfall. Farm animals perished while several farms and more than 150 hectares of pine forest were destroyed in a blaze in Sicily this month.

Drought in the northern agricultural provinces of Parma and Piacenza prompted the government last week to declare states of emergency, which will free up extra funds to tackle the crisis.

Opposition politicians called for a similar response to the wildfires. Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, wrote on his blog: “£Vesuviusisburning” and called for a national state of emergency to be declared.

Italy continued to swelter on Thursday, with the highest temperatures of 36C (97F) forecast in Rome and Florence.

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