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‘Lucifer’ heatwave fuels Italy’s wildfires with temperatures up to 47C

A blistering heatwave is sweeping across Italy this week, fuelling fires in the south of the country, notably Sicily and Calabria, where a UNESCO-designated natural park is threatened.

‘Lucifer’ heatwave fuels Italy’s wildfires with temperatures up to 47C
Photo: Vigili del Fuoco (Italian fire brigade)

Temperatures hit 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit) in Sicily on Tuesday, near Syracuse, with meteorologists warning that Italy’s all-time record of 48.5 degrees, in Sicily in 1999, could be beaten on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in the south of Italy, the anticyclone dubbed ‘Lucifer’ by Italian media was forecast to send the mercury rising to 39-42 degrees on Wednesday before sweeping northwards, with weekend temperatures of up to 40 degrees in the central regions of Tuscany and Lazio, which includes Rome.

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

The Italian health ministry issued ‘red’ alerts for extreme heat in the areas in and around the cities of Rome, Bari, Rieti and Campobasso on Tuesday, and those were joined on Wednesday by Palermo, Perugia, Frosinone and Latina.

Italy’s Department for Civil Protection meanwhile sounded the alarm over the heightened risk of serious fires due to the weather conditions this week.

The island of Sicily and the region of Calabria in particular have already been battling fires throughout the summer – most caused by arson and fuelled by heat – with firefighters recording 300 interventions in the past 12 hours alone.

The Madonie mountain range, near the Sicilian capital Palermo, has for several days been besieged by flames that have destroyed crops, animals, homes and industrial buildings.

Sicily’s governor, Nello Musumeci, called for a state of emergency to be declared for the mountains, while Agriculture Minister Stefano Patuanelli visited on Wednesday to meet local mayors.

In Calabria, fires threatened the Aspromonte mountain range, designated a UNESCO area of international geological significance.

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The deputy head of environmental NGO WWF Italy, Dante Caserta, called for more resources, such as air support, to quell the flames “or it will be too late, and we will lose a priceless heritage forever”.

Thousands of blazes have been recorded across the peninsula in recent weeks, with one in the west of the island of Sardinia ravaging almost 20,000 hectares during the worst fires seen in decades.

Civil Protection head Fabrizio Curcio on Sunday urged the public to “avoid incorrect behavior and promptly report fires”.

Although extreme weather events have always existed and Italy is no stranger to intense heat, experts say the climate crisis is making heatwaves more frequent and more dangerous.

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

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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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