8 Aug 2017

Sicily fire crew accused of causing fires for cash

7:15 am on 8 August 2017

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

A fire rages in northeastern Sicily lastr month.

A wildfire rages in northeastern Sicily last month. Photo: AFP

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.

The team, in the Ragusa district, are each paid about €10 an hour.

They came under suspicion because they were called out more often than others.

The fires date back to 2013-2015, and police decided to impose house arrest only on the commander, Davide De Vita, because the criminality was not recent.

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

Police said analysis of the 115 calls had shown up mistakes by some of those involved in the fraud. Sometimes the same phone was used repeatedly but different names were given, police said.

In some cases, call-outs were reported for non-existent fires. To explain why water had not been used in such cases, the volunteers claimed that animals had been roaming in the area, and had to be left alone.

Italians are currently sweltering in a heatwave that has pushed temperatures above 40°C and dried out the vegetation, making wildfires common.

Spain, Portugal, southern France and the Balkans have also experienced abnormally hot weather this summer.


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