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CLIMATE

Human action responsible for 70 percent of Italy’s wildfires, minister says

More than 70 percent of the fires devastating Italy this summer are caused by human action, and most are set intentionally, a government minister said on Thursday.

Human action responsible for 70 percent of Italy's wildfires, minister says
Photo: Vigili del Fuoco (Italian fire brigade)

Thousands of wildfires have been reported across Italy in the past week as temperatures soar, the majority of them in the south of the country, and things show no sign of improving as 

Firefighting planes were deployed again overnight to tackle forest fires in the southern region of Calabria and on the island of Sicily, where flames threatened a nature reserve in the north.

They are the latest in thousands of blazes that have broken out across the peninsula in recent weeks, with one, in the west of the island of Sardinia, ravaging almost 20,000 hectares.

 On Tuesday alone,.the Italian fire brigade reported tackling 1,130 wildfires in 24 hours

Roberto Cingolani, the minister for ecological transition, told parliament on Thursday that 57.4 percent of the fires are caused by arson and 13.7 percent the result of unintentional human action.

“Our actions are responsible for more than 70 percent,” he said, adding that less than two percent of fires were down to natural causes such as lightning.

He said the impact of climate change was felt through “a reduction in the average humidity of the soil, to which are added… dry, high temperature winds.”

READ ALSO: ‘A disaster without precedent’: Sardinia wildfires ravage west of Italian island

Cingolani said he did not understand why people would start such fires, as they brought no economic benefit.

Under the law, “in areas that have been on fire, for 15 years you can’t do anything different from what was there before”, he said.

Turkey and Greece have also been battling major blazes this summer that officials and experts have linked to increasingly frequent and intense weather events caused by climate change.

The European Union has sent help to a number of countries including Italy and Greece in the form of planes, helicopters and firefighters from other member states.

In Sicily, firefighters in Palermo reported facing more than 40 fires inscrubland on Wednesday, which they said were “fuelled by high temperatures and the strong wind”.

The Coldiretti agricultural organisation said it would take up to 15 years to re-establish the woodlands lost by the fires, calling for more protection against blazes.

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

Meanwhile, heavy rain in the north of Italy has also been causing problems, with flooding around the picturesque tourist hotspot of Lake Como.

Firefighters said they evacuated 120 people late Wednesday from a campsite in Dervio, on the eastern shore, as a precaution.

And around 100 guests were evacuated from a hotel on the northern edge after it became partially submerged in mud and debris, according to the ANSA news agency.

Experts say the climate crisis is fuelling both the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events in Italy.

This year’s fire season has been significantly more destructive than the previous average, EU data shows.

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CLIMATE

Central and southern Italy brace for storms and heavy snow

Storms and snowfall are forecast across much of central and southern Italy over the next few days, according to weather reports.

Snow is forecast in the hills of much of central and southern Italy.
Snow is forecast in the hills of much of central and southern Italy. Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Italy’s Civil Protection Department on Monday issued ‘orange’ alerts for bad weather along Campania’s Tyrrhenian coastline and the western part of Calabria, while Sicily, Basilicata, Lazio, Molise, Umbria, Abruzzo, central-western Sardinia, and the remaining areas of Campania and Calabria are under a lower-level ‘yellow’ weather warning.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts is warning Italy’s central-southern regions to prepare for a blast of polar air from the Arctic Circle that will bring heavy snowfall, rain and storms, reports national weather forecaster Il Meteo.

The village of Grotte di Castro in the province of Viterbo, two hours’ drive north of Rome, mountainous parts of Sardinia, and much of the province of Campobasso in the central-eastern region of Molise were already blanketed in snow on Monday morning.

The department is responsible for predicting, preventing and managing emergency events across the country, and uses a green, yellow, orange and red graded colour coding system for weather safety reports.

An orange alert signifies a heavy rainfall, landslide and flood risk, while a yellow alert warns of localised heavy and potentially dangerous rainfall.

The current meteorological conditions mean that snow is expected to reach unusually low altitudes of around 450-500 metres, with flakes already falling thickly on parts of the southern-central Apennines mountain range at 500-700 metres altitude.

The hills of Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Lazio, Sardinia, Campania, Calabria and Basilicata are likely to see heavy snow around the 500m mark, while areas at an altitude of 1000m or higher will see between 50-60 cm of fresh snow.

Affected parts of the country could see 50-60cm of snowfall.

Affected parts of the country could see 50-60cm of snowfall. Photo: Vincenzo PINTO /AFP

In areas where the snow is unlikely to reach, heavy rains and thunderstorms are anticipated, with rain forecast throughout Sardinia, Campania, Calabria and Lazio, reports Il Meteo.

Strong winds are forecast over the whole country, with the island regions of Sicily and Sardinia facing windspeeds of over 100km/hour and the risk of storm surges, according to the national newspaper La Repubblica.

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

The north of the country, meanwhile, will see sun but low temperatures of below 0°C at night in many areas, including across much of the Po Valley.

While conditions are expected to stabilise on Tuesday, cold currents from Northern Europe are forecast to trigger another wave of bad weather on Wednesday and Thursday, with Sardinia and Italy’s western coastline again at risk of storms and heavy rainfall that will move up towards Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto in the north.

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