arsonists behind more than half of forest fires in Italy, officials say | Voice of America


About 800 forest fires have hit Italy this year, tripling the normal annual average and causing millions of dollars in damage. But more than half of them were likely set off by arsonists or farmers breaking fire rules, authorities said.

A 50-year-old sheep and goat farmer was arrested last week after a surveillance camera filmed him setting fire to an undergrowth on Thursday near the town of Montesarchio, 48 kilometers from Naples in southern Italy, near where another wildfire raged last year.

Local officials say the farmer likely wanted to renew his pasture by burning it in defiance of the strict rules governing such burns. They say he tried to get rid of his lighter when he saw Rifleman officers later walking towards him.

For the police, the arsonists are even more disturbing.

Last week, Roberto Cingolani, Minister for the Ecological Transition, told parliament that 57.4% of recent forest fires in Italy were due to arson and 13.7% to unintentional human action.

“More than 70% of fires in Italy are our responsibility,” he said. “Less than 2% are caused naturally, for example, by a lightning strike. For 4.4%, the cause is undetermined, and 22% are unclassifiable situations in which it is difficult to know what started the fire, ”he added.

With the land drying out, fires are setting in quickly, Italian officials say, noting that climate change has brought unprecedented high temperatures to the country, drying out the land and making it even more combustible.

Most of the forest fires have occurred in the southern regions of Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Calabria, Basilicata and Sicily. Fires have also occurred in the central provinces of Tuscany, Umbria and Abruzzo, where holidaymakers were evacuated on Sunday after a forest fire ravaged a pine forest near the coastal town of Pescara.

The forest fires on the island of Sardinia have been described by local media as ‘apocalyptic’, and by the end of the month will likely have caused more economic damage than the costs of the fires of 1983 and 1994. Sardinia has declared a “state of calamity” and called for more help from the central government.

General view of a burnt area following a forest fire in Cuglieri, Sardinia, Italy on July 25, 2021, in this screenshot obtained from a video on social media. (Credit: Cronache Nuoresi)

According to Coldiretti, the country’s main agricultural association, the extreme heat and lack of rainfall are causing “worrying drought which decimates crops but also promotes the spread of fires and the action of arsonists”.

The association said in a statement that the economic cost was incalculable from the fires, which “destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of woodland and Mediterranean scrub with charred trees, olive groves, destroyed pastures and led to a veritable slaughter of animals “.

Coldiretti also said he believed 60% of fires were started by arsonists, some with Mafia ties, during land disputes or in an attempt to force farmers to sell to make way for industrial development.

“The arsonists are devastating the Apulian countryside,” said Coldiretti president Savino Muraglia.

Two arsonists were arrested last week in Troina, in central Sicily, where solar power plants are being built.

“We have to pay close attention to the assumption that solar interests want to undermine farmers,” Troina mayor Fabio Venezia said. The Republic newspaper.

Investigations into arson have also started in Lazio, Calabria and Sicily, where Claudio Fava, head of the regional anti-mafia commission, said in a recent hearing: “We must take note that in Sicily , barbecues and brush are not the cause of these fires. “

Fava said 98% of fires on the island are caused by “willful misconduct.”

Other fires are believed to have been started due to personal disputes and grudges. In Puglia, a young farmer near Lecce appears to have had trouble with some of his neighbors in June. A fire burned much of his land, tools and irrigation system.

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