Wildfires rage in south of Italy amid record heatwave

Fires break out in Sicily and Calabria during intense heatwave.

Three people have died as a result of wildfires in southern Italy, burning thousands of hectares of land, as the Calabria region calls on the government to declare a state of emergency.

On Wednesday a 30-year-old farmer died in the Catania area of north-east Sicily after he was crushed by his tractor in an attempt to put out on a fire on farmland.

The tractor was carrying a cargo of water whose weight caused the vehicle to overturn on a corner, killing the man instantly, reports news agency ANSA.

Two elderly men also lost their lives in separate incidents in Calabria, the toe of Italy's boot, yesterday.

A 76-year-old man died in Grotteria after his house became surrounded by flames, while a 79-year-old man was found dead in Cardeto due to burns caused by wildfires.

A few days ago two other people died in a fire in Calabria - a 53-year-old woman and her 34-year-old nephew - as they attempted to save their olive grove in San Lorenzo, on the slopes of Aspromonte.

The fires have destroyed multiple properties in the affected regions, devastating land and leading to the evacuations of many homes.

Italy's agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli, on a visit to Sicily yesterday, pledged economic relief "to those who have lost everything."

The cause of the fires is being blamed on a mix of poor maintenance of wooded areas and the criminal actions of arsonists.

The situation is aggravated by the extreme heat, with the Syracuse area of Sicily registering a record 48.8 degrees on Wednesday, which is reported as the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe.

News of the wildfires comes mid-way through what forecasters had warned would be the 'hottest week of the summer' as Italy faces the 'Lucifer' anticyclone, a wave of hot air sweeping the country.

Heat warning in Italian cities

The health ministry has issued its highest Level 3 'bollino rosso' heat warning 10 cities on Thursday 12 August: Bari, Bologna, Campobasso, Rieti, Rome, Frosinone, Latina, Palermo, Perugia and Trieste.

On Friday 13 August, the peak of the heatwave, the Level 3 warning will affect 15 cities: Bari, Bologna, Bolzano, Brescia, Cagliari, Campobasso, Florence, Frosinone, Latina, Palermo, Perugia, Rieti, Rome, Trieste and Viterbo.

People are advised to avoid exposure to the sun and outdoor activity in the middle of the day, to eat lightly and drink plenty of water.

Photo ANSA