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HEATWAVE

Italian wildfires ‘three times worse’ than average as heatwave continues

The prolonged heatwave and severe drought hitting Italy are fuelling wildfires at a rate of one every two days as summer begins, studies show.

Wildfire in Tuscany
As the heatwave keeps raging across the country, wildfires are breaking out at the rate of one major event every two days. Photo by Federico SCOPPA / AFP

The number of wildfires recorded so far in 2022 is already three times higher than average, with the country registering at least one fire every two days according to Coldiretti, Italy’s national confederation of farmers.

The exceptionally high temperatures of the past few months combined with the ongoing lack of rainfall – down by nearly 50 percent on this time last year – have dried out swathes of land up and down the country, increasing the frequency and often the severity of wildfires.

READ ALSO: Italy’s heatwave to last another week and get even hotter, say forecasts

“Italy is ablaze, with over 9,000 hectares [of land] having gone up in smoke in the last six months”, said Coldiretti, adding that the heatwave is “laying siege” to major cities including Bologna, Rome, Florence and Naples.

Last year, around 150,000 hectares of land up and down the peninsula were destroyed by wildfires and 659 firestorms were recorded. But the latest round of data collected by EFFIS (the European Forest Fire Information System) suggest that 2022 is going to be a much worse year.

In the last weekend alone, an entire pine forest in Minervino Murge (60 kilometres north of Bari) was completely destroyed after a wildfire broke out, while several small wildfires were registered in the provinces of Palermo (Sicily) and Ravenna (Emilia-Romagna) from Saturday.

On Sunday, a fire also broke out in a thicket in Rome’s Ponte di Nona area, though the prompt intervention of the local fire brigade prevented the flames from spreading to the surrounding constructions, preventing more serious damage.   

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

Wildfire in Sardinia

Wildfires can quickly spread to residential areas if not promptly extinguished by the local fire department. Photo by Massimo LOCCI / AFP

As the current heatwave shows no sign of relenting and rain is not expected for at least another week, events of this kind are only likely to keep occurring and farmers across the country, many of whom have already been hit hard by the drought, are yet again expected to take the brunt.

Coldiretti warned that Italy must prepare for “a real national emergency” with the agriculture sector crisis set to relive the woes of 2003, when the country registered the hottest summer in 40 years and as many as 9,697 wildfires were recorded throughout the year.

READ ALSO: Drought hits Italy’s hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

“Every fire costs Italians over 10,000 euros per hectare, including both the immediate cost of putting out the fire and recovering the land and long-term expenses for the reconstruction of environmental and financial systems,” said Coldiretti.

While the current drought and ensuing fires are sure to hit the country’s economy hard, things are predicted to worsen in the coming decades.

Climate change is expected to mean the number of extreme wildfires recorded worldwide will increase by 14 percent by 2030 and by 50 percent by the end of the century, according to UN estimates.

If you see a wildfire in Italy, follow our guidance on what to do and what to avoid.

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WHAT CHANGES IN ITALY

On the agenda: What’s happening in Italy this week

From weather warnings to summer festivals, here's a look at the key events in Italy this week that you should know about.

On the agenda: What's happening in Italy this week

Monday

Storms and heatwave peak – once again the country is divided in two by the weather forecast this week following an intense heatwave. Thunderstorms are expected on Monday as the heat breaks in many northern and central regions, including in Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto.

READ ALSO: Will summer 2022 be Italy’s hottest ever?

Meanwhile, temperatures will remain around 35-36 in most parts of the south and islands. The heatwave is expected to break across all parts of the country by Tuesday, with rain forecast in some parts of the south.

Wednesday:

San Lorenzo – One of the most romantic evenings of the year in Italy, this is said to be the night when shooting stars can be seen across the country. This is because of the passing of Perseid, a meteor shower that cross the sky at this time of year and is known in Italian as lacrime di san lorenzo, or  ‘San Lorenzo’s tears’. August 10th is the name-day (onomastico) of San Lorenzo.

In fact, there’s a good chance of seeing falling stars any day this week. Other than stargazing, you might want to check out local events held in your town and city to mark the occasion – usually held in Piazza San Lorenzo, if there is one.

Thursday:

Jazz in Rome – for those in the capital, there’s no shortage of events to enjoy this month. Castel Sant’Angelo near the Vatican is putting on ‘Classic Mit Jazz‘ on August 11th: a fusion of jazz and classical music with an ensemble that features a sax and drums as well as a violin and cello. Tickets are €12 full price, €2 for 18-25 year-olds.

Friday

Ferragosto weekend – Most of Italy is already chiuso per ferie (closed for the holidays) from early August, but the Ferragosto national holiday on Monday, August 15th is when the whole country really clocks off and heads to the beach.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy’s national summer holiday

It’s not unusual for the minority of people  who aren’t already on holiday this month to take a long weekend off starting Friday, August 12th.

Traffic is always particularly heavy over the Ferragosto weekend, particularly southbound on major motorways. So if you’ll be travelling by car it’s a good idea to set off as early as possible on Saturday morning – or Friday if you can.

Weekend

Serie A kicks off – Italy’s top football league starts with the first two matches held on August 13th this year, more than a week earlier than the last competition. While there have been suggestions that the date would have to be pushed back if extreme heat persists, officials insist that there will be no delays.

Summer sales – Last chance for sales shopping (in some regions) – the saldi are closely regulated in Italy, with only two big sales allowed per year

This year’s summer sales season runs until August 13th in Lazio, the region where Rome is based, as well as in Liguria. Offers continue in most other regions until the end of August.

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