Firefighters throughout Sicily are struggling to contain and slow down dozens of forest fires which forces hundreds of tourists and locals to evacuate. Authorities report that the fires are out of control and emergency crews are having a hard time keeping up.
Some 700 people were helped to escape the fires by boat from the Calampiso seaside resort, west of the capital Palermo, as flames spread around the hotels. There have been no reports of injuries, local media reported, but the mayor of a nearby town appealed for help.
Matteo Rizzo, mayor of San Vito Lo Capo in Sicily, wrote on Facebook. “We need minibuses and cars to pick people up at the little port and take them to school buildings.” Twenty-three fires were raging yesterday as air force planes dumped water in a bid to quench the flames.
University buildings in the city of Messina in central Sicily were engulfed by smoke as the surrounding hillsides were lit up with flames. On mainland Italy, blazes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius have sent clouds of smoke into the air near the port city of Naples.
“We fled in swimwear and slippers. Our apartment was engulfed in flames. They were right above us. I took my daughter and I went to the beach. They made us go on the boats that go around Zingaro. First women and children, and then the others”, one tourist reported.
Temperatures in Italy’s arid south and Sicily have reached over 40C after months of little rainfall. Images from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius show clouds of smoke over a kilometer high pouring into the air near Naples.
The national fire service said it was engaged in 441 operations across Italy on Wednesday, including 288 wildfires. Those at Vesuvius are among the most serious. Around 70 firefighters have tackled the huge fire on the ground, alongside Civil Protection volunteers, and three helicopters have been deployed.
Meanwhile, the residents and firefighters of Greek Island of Zakynthos are also waging their battle against raging wildfires.
A fire that broke out on Wednesday afternoon in the area of Volimes, northwestern Zakynthos, was under partial control on Thursday, the fire service said. Nine fire engines, manned by 25 firefighters, were involved in the effort to douse the blaze, bolstered with nine water trucks dispatched to the scene by regional authorities and two water-dropping aircraft assisting.
Another fire on the island earlier this week razed at least 300 hectares of forestland in a mountainous area of the island’s north.
Firefighters battled the blaze in tinder-dry conditions, against high temperatures and strong winds, all night and were finally able to bring it under control on Wednesday morning, though not before it wreaked significant damage to a part of the island that is an important ecosystem and also very popular with tourists.
Initial estimates put the damaged forestland at more than 300 hectares, but there were no reports of injuries or destruction of property by Wednesday morning. However, the thick smoke that covered many parts of the island caused dozens of residents and visitors to seek medical assistance after experiencing breathing difficulties.