Italy wildfires: 'No BBQ' appeal over Ferragosto holiday

Nature reserve near Rome destroyed by flames.

Wildfires continue to rage in Italy this summer, particularly in the southern regions of Sicily and Calabria, as the country endures a heatwave with record high temperatures.

Since the beginning of this year Italy has seen about 110,000 hectares destroyed by wildfires, according to figures from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) of the European Commission.

To put this in context, it is the equivalent of an area as large as 145,000 football fields, and about four times the average of the 28,479 hectares burned each year between 2008 and 2020.

So far this year Italy has battled more than 400 large wildfires (over 30 hectares), compared to an annual average of 224 in the period 2008-2020.

Several people have lost their lives in the fires which, in addition to destroying land, property, trees and crops, have a devastating impact on wild animals and birds.

Italy's firefighters, backed by environmental association Legambiente, have appealed to people to avoid barbeques during Italy's Ferragosto holiday this weekend.

"In these hot and dry days, with a gust of wind [barbeque fires] can unleash hell, especially in green areas, in woods and parks, thirsty from temperatures and lack of rain," said Roberto Scacchi, president of the Lazio branch of Legambiente.

Lazio governor Nicola Zingaretti has declared a state of natural disaster in the region following a wildfire that has devoured a vast area of the Monte Catillo nature reserve near Tivoli, to the east of Rome, over the last two days.

The cause of the spate of fires in Italy is blamed on a mix of poor maintenance of wooded areas, lack of forestry workers and, in many cases, the criminal actions of arsonists.

Italy's president Sergio Mattarella, currently on holiday in Sardinia, yesterday took a helicopter flight over the scorched, desolate Oristano area of the island which was devastated by fire last month.

Lamenting the "immense extent of the damage" caused by the fires to the lives of local residents and to "the future of young people", Mattarella said: "Those who are guilty carry a very serious responsibility on their conscience."

Meanwhile, as the hottest week of the summer draws to a close and the 'Lucifero' wave of hot air moves on, Italy's health ministry has issued a 'red alert' Level 3 warning for 17 cities today, Saturday 14 August.

Photo Massimo Percossi - ANSA