Human negligence is responsible for 70% of summer fires in Italy


More than 70% of the fires that swept Italy this summer are caused by human action, aided by climate change, a government minister said on Thursday.

Firefighting planes were again deployed overnight to tackle forest fires in the southern region of Calabria and on the island of Sicily, where flames threatened a nature reserve to the north. These are the latest of a hundred fires that have broken out in the peninsula in recent weeks, including one in the west of the island of Sardinia devastating nearly 20,000 hectares.

Roberto Cingolani, the Minister for the Ecological Transition, told Parliament on Thursday that 57.4% of fires are caused by arson and 13.7% the result of unintentional human action.

“Our actions are responsible for over 70%,” he said, adding that less than 2% of fires were due to natural causes such as lightning. According to him, the impact of climate change has been felt through “a reduction in the average humidity of the soil, to which are added (…) dry and high temperature winds”. Cingolani said he did not understand why people started such fires because they did not bring any economic benefit.

Under the law, “in areas that have been on fire for 15 years you can’t do anything different from what there was before,” he said. Turkey and Greece have also battled major fires this summer that officials and experts have linked to increasingly frequent and intense weather events caused by climate change.

The European Union has sent aid to a number of countries, including Italy and Greece, in the form of planes, helicopters and firefighters. In Sicily, Palermo firefighters reported on Wednesday they had faced more than 40 fires in the scrubland, which they said were “fueled by high temperatures and strong wind”.

Farm organization Coldiretti said it would take up to 15 years to restore forests lost by fires, calling for more fire protection. Meanwhile, heavy rains in northern Italy also caused problems, with flooding around the scenic tourist hotspot of Lake Como.

Firefighters said they evacuated 120 people Wednesday evening from a campsite in Dervio, on the east bank, as a precaution. And around 100 guests were evacuated from a hotel on the northern outskirts after it was partially submerged in mud and debris, according to the ANSA news agency.

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