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Italy wildfires: Homes evacuated in Rome and Naples as police arrest four suspected arsonists

People were evacuated from their homes in Naples and Rome as wildfires continued to devastate the Italian countryside, while police have arrested at least four suspected arsonists across the country.

Italy wildfires: Homes evacuated in Rome and Naples as police arrest four suspected arsonists
File photo of one of the recent wildfires in Messina, Sicily. Photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP

Firefighters worked through the night to tame a blaze in Castel Fustano, a nature reserve on the Lazio coast. Traffic was temporarily blocked and some homes evacuated on Monday evening as the flames tore through the pine forest south-west of the capital. 

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi said the wildfire was “a very serious situation”.

“We need the help of the region and the government. Rome can not be left alone in the face of this environmental disaster. We must all work together,” she said.

Lazio's regional president, Nicola Zingaretti, had on Monday called for the government to declare a state of emergency over the recent spate of wildfires which have affected the entire country but the southern regions in particular.

A 22-year-old man was arrested for suspected arson in connection with the Castel Fusano blaze, according to Rai News, after police reportedly found him burning tissues in the area. 

Italy's fire service said on Tuesday that the majority of the fires they have tackled this summer were started “through arson or stupidity”.

In addition to the Lazio man, police have also arrested suspected arsonists in Teggiano in Salerno, Agrigento in Sicily, and on the south-east coast of Lecce. All three are believed to have started fires in nearby national parks.

A Naples man was reported dead as a result of the fires on Monday, the first casualty in Campania after two men were killed in Calabria the previous week. The latest victim was a 53-year-old businessman and former councillor, La Repubblica di Napoli reported, who died after climbing onto the roof of his shed in an attempt to escape the flames.

Several homes were evacuated in Naples as a fire raged in the southern Posilipo neighbourhood of the city, totally destroying one deserted house.

Campania's regional governor on Monday called Italy's Defence Ministry to ask for further assistance of the army, who have been deployed in the Mount Vesuvius National Park for several years to help Civil Protection volunteers and firefighters.

And in Tuscany, around 15 houses in Volterra were evacuated while firefighters tackled further major fires in Grosseto – where the mayor described the suspected arson attacks as “war” – and Piancastagnaio further south.

In Pistoia, midway between Lucca and Florence, one firefighter was taken ill after working a 20-hour shift. He was later released from hospital in a stable condition.

Italy's firefighters have had their work cut out this summer as the number of wildfires has increased significantly compared to the same period in 2016.

While police suspect arsonists are behind a large proportion of the blazes, Italy's dry weather after months of low rainfall, together with strong winds, have allowed the flames to spread quickly.

READ ALSO: Italy's firefighters have been crowned the best in the worldItaly's firefighters crowned the best in the world
Photo: Conrad Dietrich Magirus Award/Magirus Group

MAFIA

Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

In its latest mafia sting, Italian police took down a large 'Ndrangheta ring in southern Calabria, placing 56 people under investigation including a regional councillor and a former head of the regional tourism board.

Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

The early-morning blitz by over 300 police focused on areas of Calabria – Italy’s poorest region – under the control of the Mancuso clan, a powerful branch of the infamous ‘Ndrangheta, many of whose top operatives are among hundreds of defendants in an ongoing ‘maxi-trial’.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

READ ALSO: ‘Ndrangheta: It’s time to bust some myths about the Calabrian mafia

Besides alleged mafia members, the operation also snared businessmen, a regional councillor released from prison days earlier, a former head of the regional tourism board and two civil servants, police said.

The incarcerated boss of the clan, Luigi Mancuso, also known as “The Supreme”, is the biggest mafioso in the massive mafia trial that started in January 2021.

Still, police said, his clan and affiliates, including the La Rosa and Accortini families, have continued to dominate illegal activities in the Vibo Valentia province, which is located right on the toe of Italy’s boot and is widely known as the ‘Coast of the Gods’ due to its stunning coastal views.

One mafia scheme involved the infiltration of a foreign tour operator in Pizzo Calabro, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

No one talks

In Calabria, the extent of the ‘Ndrangheta’s reach in the local economy has made it near impossible to eradicate it.

By controlling the bulk of cocaine flowing into Europe, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in power and wealth. It has extended far beyond its rural roots and now operates internationally, with illegal gains reinvested in the legitimate economy.

In the area around Vibo Valentia, extortion of local businesses and the fixing of public tenders is also common.

The allegations against those arrested Thursday include the transport and sale of stolen farm machinery to Malta and Romania, police said.

The sting carried out on Thursday extended to other parts of Calabria, Palermo in Sicily and as far as Rome and Milan, police said.

READ ALSO: Meet Nicola Gratteri, the prosecutor leading Italy’s battle against the mafia

In a press conference, anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, whose efforts to defeat the ‘Ndrangheta have forced him to live under police escort for over 30 years, called the group a “fierce mafia syndicate” controlling areas around the tourist resort of Tropea.

Francesco Messina, who leads Italy’s organised crime investigative unit (DAC), cited the economic power of the clan, which relies locally on “substantial” extortion activity.

The “total absence” of complaints to authorities was striking, Messina said, underscoring the ‘Ndrangheta’s power to intimidate.

By Alexandria Sage

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