Arsonists suspected of causing Sicily wildfires

Arsonists are suspected of causing wildfires that spread through parts of Sicily on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Arsonists suspected of causing Sicily wildfires
The wildfires raged across parts of Sicily on Thursday. Photo: filippovirzi/

The fires, which quickly spread through the provinces of Palermo, Agrigento, Trapani and Messina, broke out at the same time, suggesting a criminal motive, investigators told Ansa.

Sicily President Rosario Crocetta told La Repubblica that he believed organized crime was behind the fires.

“How do you explain a blazing fire in Cefalù last night (Wednesday), when the temperature was 24 degrees?”, he said.

“Of course, the heat and wind then play their part. I do not have proof, but I suspect criminals were responsible because they always affect the most valuable areas around Palermo.”

Some of the fires were still burning on Friday morning along Italy’s eastern coast, affecting also the Aeolian islands as the sirocco fanned the flames, and six Canadair planes are still in action, Ansa reported.

Some 250 firefighters are working to extinguish the fires. The wind had dropped by Friday, making the job easier.

Among the most affected areas was the popular tourist spot, Cefalù, a historic coastal city. The fires damaged several homes, hotels and two seafront bars as flames reached the coastline.

In Poggio Maria, close to Cefalù, a girl was rescued from a burning villa, while 50 nursery school children were treated for smoke inhalation.

“The fires didn’t just start themselves,” said Fabrizio Curcio, the head of Italy's civil protection.

“I can’t say whether or not is it arson, but they are not created themselves, especially if they start in different places.” 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue

Sicily's residents are bracing for the arrival of a cyclone later on Thursday, the second this week after a deadly storm hammered the Italian island, killing three people.

Sicily braces for rare Mediterranean cyclone as storms continue
Cars and market stalls submerged in Catania, Sicily, after heavy rain hit the city and province on october 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

A rare tropical-style cyclone known as a “medicane” is set to reach Sicily’s eastern coast and the tip of mainland Calabria between Thursday evening and Friday morning, according to Italian public research institute ISPRA.

“Heavy rainfall and strong sea storms are expected on the coast, with waves of significant height over 4.5 metres (15 feet),” ISPRA said.

The Italian Department for Civil Protection placed eastern Sicily under a new amber alert for Thursday and the highest-level red lert for Friday in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, after almost a week of extreme weather in the area.

A total of three people have been reported killed in flooding on the island this week amid storms that left city streets and squares submerged.

On Tuesday, parts of eastern Sicily were ravaged by a cyclone following days of heavy rains that had sparked flooding and mudslides, killing three people.

Television images from Tuesday showed flooding in the emergency room of Catania’s Garibaldi-Nesima hospital, while rain was seen pouring from the roof inside offices at the city courtroom.

Thursday’s storm was set to hit the same area around Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city, even as residents were still mucking out their streets and homes.

Schools were closed in Syracuse and Catania, where the local government ordered public offices and courts closed through Friday.

The mayor of Catania on Tuesday shut down all businesses and urged residents to stay home.

Antonio Navarra, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, told Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper this week that Sicily was at the centre of extreme weather events, including heatwaves and cyclones.

“We’re trying to understand if, with climate change, these phenomena will become even more intense, if they will change their character as their frequency intensifies,” he said.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves

Cars submerged in Catania, Sicily, after storms hit the city and province on October 26th. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

Other forecasters have said the “medicane” is the latest evidence that the climate crisis is irreversibly tropicalising the Mediterranean, after the island’s south-eastern city of Syracuse this August recorded a temperature of 48.8C, the hottest ever seen in Europe.

“Sicily is tropicalising and the upcoming medicane is perhaps the first of this entity, but it certainly won’t be the last,” Christian Mulder, a professor of ecology and climate emergency at the University of Catania, told The Guardian on Wednesday.

“We are used to thinking that this type of hurricane and cyclone begins in the oceans and not in a closed basin like the Mediterranean. But this is not the case,” he said.

“This medicane is forming due to the torrid climate of north Africa and the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Aegean Sea has a temperature of 3C higher than the average, while the Ionian Sea has a temperature of almost 2C higher than the average. The result is a pressure cooker.”

The storm is expected to leave the area between Saturday and Sunday.