Rome mayor suspects foul play in spate of fires

Gualtieri "not intimidated" and will push ahead with plans for incinerator to tackle Rome's trash crisis.

Rome mayor Roberto Gualtieri said "there was certainly the hand of man" behind the recent spate of fires in the Italian capital, describing the situation as "very difficult, very serious".

The mayor was speaking on Italian television on Sunday, the day after several car scrap-yards were devastated in a massive fire in the eastern Centocelle district, spreading clouds of thick black smoke across the city.

Stressing that it was "too early to speculate", Gualtieri said an investigation was underway into the fires, adding: "We will see then if they were malicious or negligent episodes, even if it has already been ascertained that some of the fires were as a result of arson".

The mayor promised to strengthen "preventative actions in all areas at risk" as well as upgrading hydrants and investing in more water tankers.

He also said the city would reopen the landfill site at Albano, south-east of Rome, to cope with a worsening rubbish crisis after a fire destroyed a major waste treatment plant at Malagrotta, the vast former dump west of the capital, in June.

In an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Monday, Gualtieri said he was "absolutely determined to move forward without being intimidated" and will push ahead with plans to build a massive waste-to-energy incinerator capable of handling 600,000 tonnes of rubbish a year.

The construction of the plant would mean that "Rome will stop squandering resources to send its waste around Italy and Europe" - Gualtieri told the Corriere - "It will finally become clean like it deserves to be."

Asked about the possible role of the "ecomafia" in the recent fires, Gualtieri recalled that the waste supply chain is traditionally among the "most permeable to mafia infiltration", stressing that the battle to make Rome self-sufficient in rubbish disposal was "important in terms of legality as well as cleanliness and the environment".

The city's environment councillor Sabrina Alfonsi echoed the mayor's comments, telling reporters that it was "clear there was no self-combustion" in the Centocelle fire, "also because the temperatures were not so high."

"Whether the reasons are mafia-related we cannot say", Alfonsi added, noting that "in almost all the fires the waste supply chain is involved".

Dioxin levels in Rome on Monday were above the permitted limits, as a result of Saturday's fire, according to the local regional agency for environmental protection (ARPA).