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Sicily firefighters 'caused fires for cash'

Italian police have questioned 15 volunteer firefighters in southern Sicily accused of starting fires in order to get paid to put them out

8 August 2017, 8:01am
Wildfires have spread across southern Europe, including Sicily, over the last month
Wildfires have spread across southern Europe, including Sicily, over the last month
Fifteen volunteer firefighters have been arrested in Sicily on suspicion of starting wildfires and reporting non-existent blazes so they could earn €10 an hour for putting them out.

In the alleged fraud, the volunteers rang the emergency 115 number themselves or got friends or relatives to do it. Their commander allegedly skipped shifts in order to start fires.

Police in Ragusa province, in the south of the Mediterranean island, said the fire department became suspicious when it emerged that the auxiliary brigade had responded to 120 incidents compared with just 40 tackled by other volunteer teams over the same period.

The fires date back to 2013-2015, and police decided to impose house arrest only on the commander - not the others – as he was deemed dangerous enough, the Ansa news agency reported, due to the fact that he was suspected off continuing to start fires after others had stopped. He was named as Davide De Vita.

In collusion with some of the brigade, De Vita allegedly left the station in his van, lit fires or made false emergency reports, then came back and waited to be called out to deal with it. He showed “a sharp criminal ability and ... no fear about the consequences of his behaviour”, police said.

Investigators added in a statement that on one occasion, the commander “even spoke of wanting to set off a bomb” at the station in order to “take the money available if the emergency vehicles needed to be repaired”.

Italian media report that most of the 15 volunteers have admitted committing fraud against the state.

Ragusa is in south-eastern Sicily, about 105km from Catania. Sicily, along with much of southern Italy, is experiencing soaring temperatures and a prolonged drought. The sweltering heatwave brings temperatures moving above 40°C, which dries out the land and makes wildfires more common. In some areas strong winds have fanned wildfires, some of which have been blamed on arsonists.

Other countries in Europe, including Spain, Portugal, southern France and the Balkans, have experienced hotter than normal temperatures this summer.