What to do and what to avoid if you see a wildfire in Italy

What to do and what to avoid if you see a wildfire in Italy
(Photo by MASSIMO LOCCI / AFP)
As fires continue to burn through Sardinia and other blazes are reported through Italy, here's some advice if you happen to see one and tips for how you can prevent them.

The island of Sardinia has been fighting to contain a fire that has been described “as a disaster without precedent,” by its governor Christian Solinas.

After a weekend which saw almost 1,500 people evacuated from their homes, the fire was still burning on Tuesday, with the island placed under a yellow weather alert, signifying potential danger, reported Ansa news agency.

Other parts of Italy are also battling to put out fires, including Sicily and Pescara, which have been reportedly caused by the soaring high temperatures, drought and in some cases, arsonists.

The Civil Protection Department notes that some people start fires for profit to clear farming land, or revenge and resentment towards private individuals or the government. 

From 2016 to 2018, some 182,806 hectares of wooded and unwooded areas burned in Italy, according to Italy’s environmental league Legambiente.

Over 13,000 incidents were logged in that time including fires caused by arson and negligence.

With fires also currently burning through Sicily, such as those in Burgio, its town mayor Franco Matinella, has appealed to citizens to inform the authorities of any sightings of arsonists.

He slammed the behaviour as “yet another shameful and disgusting spectacle”, reported Ansa.

A man stands at an olive grove destroyed by the fires actively burning around the town of Cuglieri on the island of Sardinia. (Photo by Valentina Sinis / AFP) 

Wildfires are a big environmental and economic problem for Italy.

In the last 40 years, forest fires have affected an average of 107 thousand hectares – roughly ten times the size of Florence – per year, according to a report entitled, ‘A country that burns’ by Greenpeace and the Italian Society of Silviculture and Forest Ecology (SISEF).

They can occur throughout the year and although all regions can be affected, they happen more frequently in Sicily, Campania, Calabria and Sardinia.

According to data from the Corpo Forestale dello Stato (State Forestry Corps), the total number of fires in Italy from 2009 to May 2016 was some 39,203. The map shows the distribution of the blazes.

Source: Dati alle fiamme

Prevention is better than cure, so there are several things you can do to help prevent them starting.

Keep forests clean

According to guidance from the Civil Protection Department, the highest percentage of fires is due to human behaviour.

In the summer, the temperatures are at their hottest and more people are out in the forests enjoying the countryside.

So remember to take your rubbish with you and don’t throw cigarette butts or still-lit matches, as they can set fire to the dry grass on embankments along roads and railways.

What not to do

It is forbidden and dangerous to light fires in the woods – only use the designated areas (if there is one). Never leave a fire and make sure it is completely out before you leave.

If you have to park your car, make sure that it’s not in contact with dry grass, as it can start a fire.

 (Photo by MASSIMO LOCCI / AFP)

What to do if you see a forest fire

If you see flames or even smoke (or any other type of environmental emergency), the Ministry of the Interior’s advice is to call 1515, which is available 24 hours a day.

Don’t assume that others have already called emergency services.

Callers are asked to remain calm and speak clearly, indicating as precisely as possible the location, giving the province and municipality of the area that is burning.

You’ll also be asked to say whether there are already people on the scene who are putting out the flames. Do not hang up until the operator says so, or has repeated the message.

Should I flee the scene or seek refuge?

If you’re caught in the fire, look for a safe escape route, such as a road or along a waterway. People are advised not to stop in places where the wind is blowing, as you could get caught in the flames and have no way out.

Lie down on the ground in a place where the fire isn’t spreading – the smoke tends to rise and this way you avoid breathing it.

If you’re safe, don’t get in the way of rescue and don’t stop on the road to watch. Help the rescue work by leaving the fire services to do their job.

What are the punishments for starting forest fires in Italy?

As forest fires can and do cause such extensive damage, Italy has some serious consequences for those who start them.

Anyone who causes a fire in the woods, forests or woodlands or in forest nurseries intended for reforestation is punished by imprisonment of four to ten years.

If the fire is caused by negligence, the punishment is imprisonment from one to five years.

These sanctions are increased if the fire causes danger to buildings or damage to protected areas.

And they are increased by half if the fire causes serious, extensive and persistent damage to the environment. There may also be fines.


Member comments

  1. Hello,
    I live in Puglia and I know that here you will be fined for this at least on agricultural land.
    However my understanding is that because many properties are inherited or people moved to different regions it is near impossible to track down the owners.
    I am fairly sure that here in Puglia they passed a law that those properties now can be cleared by the authorities. So I would report the issue to the local fire department. Maybe the same or a similar law exists in your area. 🍀

  2. Hi, do you or does anyone happen to know if there are fines or sanctions for people who leave their land go to ruin ? We are surrounded by abandoned farmland and tangled overgrown forest, that hasn’t been maintained since the 1960’s. It is just waiting for a fire – but the landowner lives in the city and ignores it, and our protests.

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