Italy arrests two Sicilian sheep farmers for lighting wildfires to clear land

A helicopter drops water to contain a wildfire, Italy, photo: REeuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
A helicopter drops water to contain a wildfire, Italy, photo: REeuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Italian police arrested two farmers in Sicily on Saturday on suspicion of lighting recent wildfires to create grazing land for their sheep. Police said the two had been planning another large and dangerous fire.

Wildfires have torn through southern Italy in recent weeks, helped by record high temperatures, destroying forests and killing animals in Calabria and on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

Police in Syracuse, south-east Sicily, a region where temperatures hit almost 49 Celsius (120.2 Fahrenheit), said their investigations showed the men were responsible for at least two of a series of fires in the area in July.

“Their goal was to increase the grazing area of their animals with the declared intention of saving money on food,” police said in a statement.

The police said their recordings of the two men’s conversations showed they planned a new fire on Sunday to clear a much larger area of land “with unimaginable consequences for the environment and public order and safety”.

Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani has said at least 70% of the wildfires this summer have been started deliberately or through carelessness.

Wildfires in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Algeria and the United States have killed thousands of animals. Bears, deer, squirrels, birds, insects and other animals died in forests.

In some videos shared on social media, you can hear animals screaming in pain and despair from the fires.

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