As heat storms keep taking over Europe, wildfires are igniting in most of Southern Europe. Greece is severely affected, having already evacuated thousands of people and continuing efforts of keeping the blazes under control. Sicily is faced with similar disasters, authorities reporting over 40 new fires breaking out over the past few days, with more expected this week.
As the city of Palermo recorded its highest temperature since 1790 on Monday, reaching 47˚C, the proximity of one of the wildfires to the airport forced it to shut down on Tuesday morning, cancelling flights and blocking passengers from entering or exiting the building. Strong winds called Sirocco, typically forming in spring and autumn, drove the flames to the airport perimeter, which entered a state of lockdown due to the smoke outside. Most of the roads have been closed down and train travel has also been severely impacted.
While the airport has resumed partial operations in the meantime, fires keep spreading in other parts of the island. The renowned archaeological park of Segesta, housing some of Italy’s most important ancient buildings, has been particularly damaged. According to local reports, on Monday night, the 5th century BC Doric Temple on the premises of the park was “engulfed in flames”.
Tourist resorts in proximity of fires are being evacuated as a precaution before winds spread the flames even more, including all resorts and hotels in San Vito Lo Capo, on the west coast, and the Donna Carmela and San Antonio and the Galea agritourism resorts in Carruba di Riposto, just north of the city of Catania. Residents and visitors are also being evacuated from the Pizzo Sella area, Inserra Village, Cruillas Village and Mondello. So far, over 1,500 people have been evacuated, according to Global News.
Yesterday, Italy’s National Fire and Rescue Service, Vigili del Fuoco, reported over 650 interventions in 48 hours in Sicily, with 2,429 firefighters deployed on the island. In a tweet, the service reported critical conditions in the Palermo area (video), in Capo Gallo, Altofonte, Monreale, San Martino, the province of Messina in Tono, Curcuraci and Faro Superiore.
Authorities are advising people in the evacuation warning areas to prepare bags with essential items, including IDs, travel and legal documents, and keep battery powered devices charged in case of power cuts. Those in areas further away from fires are advised to stay in well-ventilated and preferably air conditioned inside areas to avoid exposure to smoke.
Overall in Italy, 16 cities have been placed under red alert. On the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, temperatures are expected to reach 48˚C soon, “potentially the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe”, according to the European Space Agency.