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Brush Fires Force Vacationers to Scramble in Southern Italy

Soaring temperatures and forest fires have forced thousands of holiday-goers in southern Italy to evacuate hotels, campsites and other tourist sites. From Rome, Sabina Castelfranco reports there have been at least two deaths blamed on the conflagration.

There are scenes of desperation and anger in Italy's south, as brush fires spread across vast areas and firefighters struggle to cope with dramatic situations. Thousands of tourists have been trapped on beaches.

Holiday makers escaping the flames rushed to the beach in bathing suits, leaving all their belongings behind in their campsites and apartments. Emergency services used patrol boats and helicopters to evacuate 4,000 tourists and residents to safety.

However, there were many complaints about the delays in rescue operations and a lack of water.

One woman was in despair. She says it is a miracle that she and her son are alive. She credits God, not the rescuers. She says she spent three hours at sea, holding her 10-month-old son's head above water.

In the Peschici in Puglia, people were forced to evacuate a hotel and several camp and tourist sites. Residents were devastated by their experience. Even the cemetery was burning.

One man says he has never seen anything like a cemetery burning. He says no one showed up to deal with the fires for four hours.

The head of the Italy's civil defense authority, Guido Bertolaso, says it was very likely the series of fires devastating the region were deliberately started.

Summer wildfires are common in Italy. The country has been hit by a heat wave with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees. Weather reports say these temperatures are not expected to ease in the next few days.

Bertolaso says the current situation is unprecedented. He says Italy has never experienced conditions like this, before. Temperatures in the south have reached 45, with zero percent humidity. Add consistent winds and it is a perfect recipe for wildfires. He says that, in a half hour, a dropped match can incinerate a small forest.

Italy has the largest fire-fighting fleet in Europe, but Bertolaso says it was impossible to react to the 100 calls received for planes, Tuesday.