Hundreds of tourists evacuated from Sicily resort threatened by fire
Hundreds of tourists were evacuated via the sea from a Sicilian beach resort threatened by wildfires, Italian news reports said on Wednesday.
According to the ANSA news agency, some 700 people were rushed out of the Calampiso hotel and residence in San Vito Lo Capo, a renowned tourist destination 120 kilometres east of Palermo.
Writing on Facebook, the town's mayor Matteo Rizzo appealed to other hotels in San Vito Lo Capo to offer a couple of nights' free accommodation to evacuees, "at least for old people and children."
"We escaped with swimwear and flip flops. Our apartment was engulfed in flames, they were right above us," tourist Stella Belliotti told ANSA. "I have nothing, just my mobile phone," she added.
Amid particularly hot and dry summer weather, Italian emergency services have been battling with a record number of forest fires since the start of the week.
The national fire department wrote on Twitter that it had intervened to put out fires 887 times on Wednesday, including 628 times for forest fires.
As well as in San Vito Lo Capo, the situation was described as critical in Catania, a city in eastern Sicily, and around Naples, where fires have been ongoing since Tuesday.
"We have a difficult situation in all of southern Italy. Right now we have 31 active fires across Italy, particularly in the south. We are handling the situation as best as we can, with the resources we have," Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said.
Environmental lobby WWF said three of its natural reserves - one in Sicily, another near Naples and a third in the south-eastern region of Apulia - have gone in flames in recent days.
It called for an "extraordinary" response from authorities, starting from an increase in fire-fighting resources "which appear insufficient compared to the scale of the emergency."
According to environmental lobby Legambiente, forest fires "are almost always" the result of arson, by people who want to reuse land for farming or construction, or by forest rangers who want to secure their jobs.