By COLLEEN BARRY
MILAN (AP) — Tourists at a resort in Sicily faced wildfires that turned their day at the beach into an emergency evacuation by sea, with many fleeing the flames in just their bathing suits and flip flops.
Wildfires fueled by heat and winds have been blazing across much of southern Italy, forcing the evacuation of some 800 tourists from the Calampiso resort in Vito Lo Capo near Trapani, Sicily.
About 20 people had to leave an island off Puglia and some 50 families were whisked away from Mount Vesuvius south of Naples.
Authorities say the number of blazes — 125 are active in Sicily alone — suggest some are tied to arson and Italy’s environment minister did not rule out Mafia involvement in the blazes in an interview in the Corriere della Sera.
Gian Luca Galletti was quoted by Corriere as saying that there were too many fires on Mount Vesuvius for them to be spontaneous, joining voices who say the Mafia appears to be behind many of the blazes.
“I don’t have proof, but it does not seem to be an isolated action or chance. Three ignition points are too many to be the result of carelessness or combustion,” Galletti said.
Danilo Giannese, one of the evacuees in Sicily, said he and his wife went swimming as usual early Wednesday along with many other guests.
“The situation was a little surreal. We went to swim like every other day. From the early morning, we saw flames and smoke, but it didn’t appear to be worrying and no one said to leave,” he told SKY TG24 on Thursday.
But around noon, the wind shifted and resort guests were told to immediately move their cars to safer ground. They were told to gather on the beach for evacuation because the road to a nearby town was no longer safe.
“There was a lot of tension, especially among the elderly and children, many of whom were crying,” he said. “Thankfully the operation was conducted in an orderly fashion.”
Stella Belliotti said she and her 7-year-old daughter were evacuated wearing just their bathing suits and flip flops, each holding pieces of cloth in their mouths against the smoke.
The vacationers were taken to a nearby town by fishing boats and dinghies.
“To see the resort surrounded by flames from the boat was terrible,” Belliotti was quoted by Corriere as saying. “Now we just want to forget it.”
On Mount Vesuvius, south of Naples, firefighters were working to prevent three blazes from joining up. The news agency ANSA said 20 people were evacuated by sea Wednesday from one of the Tremiti islands off Puglia. The army, meanwhile, has been dispatched to the Vesuvius area to help with prevention and reassure residents.