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As Mediterranean Wildfires Rage, Italy Counts Environmental Losses 

In this photo released by the Italian Firefighters, a view of a violent wildfire that burned the historical pinewood in Pescara, central Italy, Aug. 1, 2021.

A heat wave in southern Europe, fed by strong hot winds from North Africa, has contributed to the outbreak of wildfires across the Mediterranean, including in Italy, Greece, Spain and Turkey. Firefighters in Italy have been deployed from all regions to battle blazes raging in many areas of the country, destroying thousands of hectares of forests.

The high temperatures in southern Italy have prompted health ministry officials to put some areas of the country on red alert, like Sicily. Fires have been raging on the island and in other parts of Italy for days with authorities struggling to contain the fast-spreading blazes that have charred thousands of hectares of forests.

Authorities deployed thousands of firefighters and water-dropping planes from across Italy, but due to the scale of the fires, the EU has also had to send in resources.

In Sardinia, 20,000 hectares of forests were destroyed, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate. The fires damaged farmland and livestock, businesses and homes, and there is concern about losses to the island’s biodiversity.

Christian Solinas, president of the Sardinia region, calls the fires an “unprecedented disaster.” Residents spoke of apocalyptic scenes.

In Sicily, fires are still raging in different areas with the flames having also reached the southern city of Catania on the eastern coast. Here, too, many residents were forced to leave their homes and police had to intervene by sea to save some 200 people stranded at beach resorts because of the fires and heavy smoke. Catania airport had to temporarily close due to the smoke.

A view of a fire at Le Capannine beach in Catania, Sicily, Italy, July 30, 2021, in this photo obtained from social media. (Credit: Roberto Viglianisi/via Reuters)
A view of a fire at Le Capannine beach in Catania, Sicily, Italy, July 30, 2021, in this photo obtained from social media. (Credit: Roberto Viglianisi/via Reuters)

Also hard hit is the region of Abruzzo, where flames devoured a pine forest in Pescara, on the Adriatic coast, sending tourists and residents to the hospital after inhaling smoke.

Authorities say many of the fires were cause by people and have already made some arrests. Speaking on Italian TV, Pescara mayor Carlo Masci called the events in his area truly dramatic and said those responsible must pay.

Masci describes it as an attack on the heart of the city, the green lung of Pescara, its tradition, its history, its roots. The mayor says the blazes developed in various parts and the winds fueled the massive flames. He adds that he had never seen anything like this before and people were practically encircled by the fires.

Like in other parts of Italy, Masci said the impact on the local environment was incalculable with the whole area of the Dannunziana Reserve, the city’s large pine forest, destroyed. He said it hurt to see all those skeletons of the trees.