SHARE
COPY LINK

CLIMATE

Human action responsible for 70 percent of Italy’s wildfires, minister says

More than 70 percent of the fires devastating Italy this summer are caused by human action, and most are set intentionally, a government minister said on Thursday.

Human action responsible for 70 percent of Italy's wildfires, minister says
Photo: Vigili del Fuoco (Italian fire brigade)

Thousands of wildfires have been reported across Italy in the past week as temperatures soar, the majority of them in the south of the country, and things show no sign of improving as 

Firefighting planes were deployed again overnight to tackle forest fires in the southern region of Calabria and on the island of Sicily, where flames threatened a nature reserve in the north.

They are the latest in thousands of blazes that have broken out across the peninsula in recent weeks, with one, in the west of the island of Sardinia, ravaging almost 20,000 hectares.

 On Tuesday alone,.the Italian fire brigade reported tackling 1,130 wildfires in 24 hours

Roberto Cingolani, the minister for ecological transition, told parliament on Thursday that 57.4 percent of the fires are caused by arson and 13.7 percent the result of unintentional human action.

“Our actions are responsible for more than 70 percent,” he said, adding that less than two percent of fires were down to natural causes such as lightning.

He said the impact of climate change was felt through “a reduction in the average humidity of the soil, to which are added… dry, high temperature winds.”

READ ALSO: ‘A disaster without precedent’: Sardinia wildfires ravage west of Italian island

Cingolani said he did not understand why people would start such fires, as they brought no economic benefit.

Under the law, “in areas that have been on fire, for 15 years you can’t do anything different from what was there before”, he said.

Turkey and Greece have also been battling major blazes this summer that officials and experts have linked to increasingly frequent and intense weather events caused by climate change.

The European Union has sent help to a number of countries including Italy and Greece in the form of planes, helicopters and firefighters from other member states.

In Sicily, firefighters in Palermo reported facing more than 40 fires inscrubland on Wednesday, which they said were “fuelled by high temperatures and the strong wind”.

The Coldiretti agricultural organisation said it would take up to 15 years to re-establish the woodlands lost by the fires, calling for more protection against blazes.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you see a wildfire in Italy

Meanwhile, heavy rain in the north of Italy has also been causing problems, with flooding around the picturesque tourist hotspot of Lake Como.

Firefighters said they evacuated 120 people late Wednesday from a campsite in Dervio, on the eastern shore, as a precaution.

And around 100 guests were evacuated from a hotel on the northern edge after it became partially submerged in mud and debris, according to the ANSA news agency.

Experts say the climate crisis is fuelling both the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events in Italy.

This year’s fire season has been significantly more destructive than the previous average, EU data shows.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

SHOW COMMENTS