A series of fires, suspected to have been started by arsonists, have broken out on the slopes of Italy's Mount Vesuvius just outside the city of Naples, prompting several evacuations of both tourists and local residents. The huge plumes of smoke rose a mile into the sky about the volcano's summit, looking very much like eruptions of the past.
There have already been two fatalities as a result of the fires and at least 10 people have been treated at local hospitals for smoke inhalation. One man died while trying to extinguish a fire near his property in the Cosenza province. Another man was found dead in the Vibo Valentia province. Over 1000 tourists have been relocated due to their proximity to the blaze.
The past few months in Italy have been very dry and hot, creating ideal conditions for wildfires throughout Italy. There are also many wildfires currently being fought in Sicily, for example. Even more locally, wildfires are also currently burning on the Amalfi coast, while up and down Italy, 200,000 acres have burned so far this year. This past Tuesday, 197 fires were reported, with heavy rains in the north helping the effort in stopping them.
After another sweltering day today, the temperatures are going to drop a bit in southern Italy and the chance of thunderstorms will increase. The rainfall will be welcome in combating the fires, but they may also start new fires with their lightning.
Is the Mafia Involved with the Fires?
As reported by the Guardian and other news sources, many of the hundreds of fires sweeping Italy this summer might have been started by organized crime families. In one incident, a firefighting helicopter was shot at and a communications beacon used by firefighters near Naples was put out of operation.
"There is a clearly an offensive under way, presumably organized by the powerful Casalesi Camorra clan," a regional government official, Corrado Gabriele, told Il Giornale. "Behind these simple fires hides a business worth millions, with the Camorra aiming to create new zones for building."
Some have called for the army to be sent into the area to help with security. Italy's Environment Minister, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, said the fires were a "real criminal assault on the country's parks and other areas ... by people linked to organized crime groups and illicit construction".
The Italian environmental group Legambiente has said more than half of all Italy's fires are started deliberately, whether by organized crime, building speculators or farmers seeking more land to cultivate.
Some groups have suggested rewards for turning in arsonists be offered while others suggest importing more sheep (and shepherds) might lesson the possibility of wildfires. There have be less shepherds in recent years, allowing fields of grass to become overgrown and dried, creating more fuel for fires.
Whatever the reason for the fires, we wish our Italian cousins well through this difficult time.
Stay safe, miei amici.