Italian Wildfires Kill 5 People, Threaten UNESCO-Protected Beech Forests

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Fire
© AFP 2021 / VAHID AHMADI

Wildfires in southern Italy have killed five people and are threatening the UNESCO-protected beech forests, media reported on Thursday.

The last casualty confirmed was Mario Zavaglio, 77, who burned to death trying to save his cattle from fire near Grotteria municipality.

The executive body of the worst-hit southwestern region of Calabria urged Rome to declare a state of emergency in the area. Regional authorities are especially preoccupied with fires burning in the mountainous area of Aspromonte in Calabria, swiping hectares of forests and pastures.

The flames are threatening the primeval beech forests, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the directorate of the Aspromonte National Park told Sputnik. The park is calling for national army units to be dispatched to help contain the fires.

“Now regional firefighting forces and many volunteers from different associations are engaged in extinguishing the fires. Special planes Canadair and helicopters are also involved. But what we are witnessing is wildfires which are very difficult to contain, as a lot depends on fast-changing weather,” a park representative said.

A heatwave, dubbed Lucifer, hit Italy earlier this week, causing temperatures to rise to record 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in Sicily.

On Thursday, the Italian Health Ministry issued “red” alerts for extreme heat in 10 out of 27 large cities, including Rome, Palermo, Bologna and Trieste, which will be followed by Florence and Cagliari on Friday. The “red” alert means there is a risk for health not only of those comprising a vulnerable group but of all the healthy population.

The trend toward warming on the Apennines was confirmed in the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) 2020 report, which said that eight out of nine hottest years in Italian recent history happened after 2010, with 2018 becoming the hottest year in the past 60 years, followed by 2015 and 2019.

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