Category: world
Updated: 13/07/17 : 05:31:08

World :: Tourists rescued from Sicily wildfires by boats

Around 700 tourists have been rescued by boat from wildfires in Sicily, as swathes of southern Italy battle blazes.

As flames neared the seaside resort of Calampiso, fishermen and boat-owners were drafted in to aid the evacuation.

Matteo Rizzo, the mayor of nearby San Vito Lo Capo, appealed for help from "anyone with safe and reliable boats".

Writing on Facebook, he called the situation at the village west of Palermo "very urgent".

Evacuees were taken to schools in San Vito, and the mayor urged his "friendly and generous" town to pull together.

"We need minibuses and cars to pick people up at the little port and take them to school buildings," he said. "Let's all do something."

There are no reports of injuries caused by the Calampiso fire, but witnesses described running to the beach as their accommodation burned.

Italian paper La Stampa quoted one evacuated tourist, Stella Belliotti, as saying: "We fled in swimwear and slippers. Our apartment was engulfed in flames. They were right above us. I took my daughter and I went to the beach. They made us go on the boats that go around Zingaro. First women and children, and then the others."

Temperatures in Italy's arid south have reached over 40C (104F) after months of little rainfall.

Images from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, in the southern region of Campania, show clouds of smoke over a kilometre high pouring into the air near Naples.

The national fire service said it was engaged in 441 operations across Italy on Wednesday, including 288 wildfires. Those at Vesuvius are among the most serious.

Around 70 firefighters have tackled the huge fire on the ground, alongside Civil Protection volunteers, and three helicopters have been deployed.

Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said a man had been arrested on suspicion of arson in the area.

"If someone set fire to Vesuvius, I want to see them in jail for 15 years," Italian media quoted him as saying.

The minister said a decision would be made shortly about whether to send the army to assist the stricken areas.

The World Wildlife Fund has warned that thousands of people, animals, and a nature reserve are at risk around the volcano.

Italy's government declared a state of emergency last week in response to the drought in the northern provinces of Parma and Piacenza, and opposition politicians are demanding the same for the wildfires.