Temperatures hit 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit) in Sicily on Tuesday, near Syracuse, with meteorologists warning that Italy’s all-time record of 48.5 degrees, in Sicily in 1999, could be beaten on Wednesday.
Elsewhere in the south of Italy, the anticyclone dubbed ‘Lucifer’ by Italian media was forecast to send the mercury rising to 39-42 degrees on Wednesday before sweeping northwards, with weekend temperatures of up to 40 degrees in the central regions of Tuscany and Lazio, which includes Rome.
The Italian health ministry issued ‘red’ alerts for extreme heat in the areas in and around the cities of Rome, Bari, Rieti and Campobasso on Tuesday, and those were joined on Wednesday by Palermo, Perugia, Frosinone and Latina.
Italy’s Department for Civil Protection meanwhile sounded the alarm over the heightened risk of serious fires due to the weather conditions this week.
The island of Sicily and the region of Calabria in particular have already been battling fires throughout the summer – most caused by arson and fuelled by heat – with firefighters recording 300 interventions in the past 12 hours alone.
#Incendiboschivi, per tutta la notte #vigilidelfuoco impegnati in #Sicilia e #Calabria, dove permangono le maggiori criticità: oltre 300 interventi nelle ultime 12 ore, dall’alba 7 #canadair in volo. Nel video le operazioni di spegnimento a Petralia Soprana (PA) #11agosto pic.twitter.com/dbbHEWoGdL
— Vigili del Fuoco (@vigilidelfuoco) August 11, 2021
The Madonie mountain range, near the Sicilian capital Palermo, has for several days been besieged by flames that have destroyed crops, animals, homes and industrial buildings.
Sicily’s governor, Nello Musumeci, called for a state of emergency to be declared for the mountains, while Agriculture Minister Stefano Patuanelli visited on Wednesday to meet local mayors.
In Calabria, fires threatened the Aspromonte mountain range, designated a UNESCO area of international geological significance.
- What to do and what to avoid if you see a wildfire in Italy
- ‘Four to five light meals a day’: Italy’s official advice during a heatwave
- Six shocking statistics about the climate crisis in Italy
The deputy head of environmental NGO WWF Italy, Dante Caserta, called for more resources, such as air support, to quell the flames “or it will be too late, and we will lose a priceless heritage forever”.
Thousands of blazes have been recorded across the peninsula in recent weeks, with one in the west of the island of Sardinia ravaging almost 20,000 hectares during the worst fires seen in decades.
Civil Protection head Fabrizio Curcio on Sunday urged the public to “avoid incorrect behavior and promptly report fires”.
Although extreme weather events have always existed and Italy is no stranger to intense heat, experts say the climate crisis is making heatwaves more frequent and more dangerous.
This year’s fire season has been significantly more destructive than the previous average, EU data shows