Wildfires scorch Italy, suspected arsonist in custody

Thousands of acres burned across Tuscany, Lazio, Liguria

Wildfires scorch Italy, suspected arsonist in custody

(ANSA) - Rome, July 20 - A series of forest fires continud to rage across Italy Friday while Italian police said an arson suspect in Tuscany was in custody. The 68 year-old suspect is accused of setting a dozen fires since last September in the area surrounding Arezzo, where police arrested the man late Thursday. The suspect was allegedly caught red-handed setting fire to brush. He is currently under house arrest. Another fire exploded late Friday morning in Nuoro, central Sardinia, forcing the evacuation of a local university. The fires have been blazing around Viterbo in Lazio, in Liguria, in Sardinia and in the Pollino National Park in southern Italy, scorching thousands of hectares of forest land and anything in their path. In the province of Viterbo, flames consumed approximately 80 hectares of forest, including oak, beech and chestnut trees in the nature reserve of Lake Vico. Some 70 hectares of forests have already been destroyed near Grosseto and Arezzo, in central Tuscay, even as firefighters, equipped with two specialized fire-extinguishing Canadair planes from Italy's civil protection agency and with helicopters, have worked through the night. No people or houses are at risk, authorities said of the fires in these areas. Volunteers are also helping the efforts. At risk of catching fire are also swathes of the Pollino National Park, shared between the southern regions of Calabria and Basilicata. "The whole park is surrounded by fires. What's happening tells us this will not be a calm year," said Domenico Pappaterra, the park's president. The blaze is believed to have been started deliberately early Monday afternoon and by Wednesday the flames had already destroyed about 500 hectares of brush. Arsonists are often blamed in forest fires in Italy, and suspicion usually focuses on farmers seeking to clear space for agricultural purposes or land developers hoping to win permits for new constructions.

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