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Hundreds of Tourists Escape by Boat from Sicilian Wildfires

Woodland fires burn near a tourist resort where, according to firefighter reports, some several hundred tourists have been evacuated by land and sea, in the Sicilian town of San Vito lo Capo, southern Italy, July 12, 2017.

Seven hundred tourists were evacuated by boat from wildfires in Sicily on Wednesday, local media reported, as swathes of southern Italy burned after months with little rainfall.

There were no reports of injuries caused by the blaze at the Calampiso seaside resort west of the island's capital Palermo, but the mayor of a nearby town appealed for help in the rescue.

"We need minibuses and cars to pick people up at the little port and take them to school buildings," Matteo Rizzo, mayor of San Vito Lo Capo, wrote on Facebook. "Let's all do something."

Temperatures have soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) in arid southern regions. Twenty-three fires were raging on Wednesday, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a speech, adding the government was "actively following this difficult situation."

Blazes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius have sent vast clouds of smoke into the air near the port city of Naples, and Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said a man had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

"If someone set fire to Vesuvius, I want to see them in jail for 15 years," Galletti was quoted saying in Italian media. He added that a decision would be made in the next few hours about whether to send the army to the affected areas.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said thousands of people, animals, and a nature reserve were at risk around the volcano.

"The situation is extreme, so extraordinary action needs to be taken," WWF said in a statement.

Drought in the northern agricultural provinces of Parma and Piacenza prompted the government last week to declare states of emergency, which will free up extra funds to tackle the crisis.

Opposition politicians called for a similar response to the wildfires. Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, wrote on his blog: "#Vesuviusisburning" and called for a national state of emergency to be declared.