Sicilian fire fighters detained for arson

18 August 2017

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Italy - 16 volunteer fire fighters in Sicily have been accused of deliberately starting fires so they would be paid to extinguish them. One person has been arrested and 15 fire fighters were detained after they reportedly called the emergency number themselves or asked their friends or family members to call. The team’s commander allegedly skipped shifts to start the fires. He was placed under house arrest as he allegedly continued starting fires after other volunteers had stopped. The team came under suspicion as they were called out more frequently than other local groups. The team in Ragusa responded to 120 incidents, compared with 40 incidents dealt with others in the summers of 2013 and 2014, police said. A team member would set off in their car, light a fire and make a false report, then come back to the fire station and wait to be called to put it out. “He [the ringleader] demonstrated a sharp criminal ability and had no fear about the consequences of his behaviour,” the police statement said. “On one occasion, he even said he wanted to set off a bomb so as to take the money available if the emergency vehicles needed to be repaired.”

Each fire fighter was paid about €10 (R157) per hour. Italian publications reported that most of the detained officers admitted to starting the fires deliberately. Fires in the Ragusa district in southern Sicily come as the region suffers a sweltering heatwave with temperatures moving above 40 degrees Celsius, which dries out the land and makes wildfires more common. Other countries in Europe, including Spain, Portugal, southern France and the Balkans, have experienced hotter than normal temperatures this summer.