Italy fights more than 500 fires as record temperatures hit Sicily

Deaths of four people blamed on wildfires and heatwave

Firefighters in Italy were on Thursday battling more than 500 blazes, a day after Sicily reported record temperatures of nearly 49°C.

The wildfires have been blamed for the deaths of four people. If confirmed, the extreme heat in Syracuse, Sicily on Wednesday would be the highest temperature recorded in Europe.

The previous record of 48°C was measured in Athens, Greece on July 19, 1977.

Firefighters, aided by five water-dropping planes, said they had carried out more than 500 operations in the past 12 hours, mainly in Sicily and Calabria in the south. The situation was now “under control” on the island, they said.

There were reports of trees and land burning in the Madonie mountains about 100 kilometres from the Sicilian capital of Palermo, and in the town of Linguaglossa, on the slopes of the Etna volcano.

The wider Mediterranean area is buckling under a searing heatwave, which has led to devastating wildfires in countries such as Greece, Turkey and Algeria.

The high temperatures are expected to continue for several days in Italy.

The country's Health Ministry has issued its two highest level heatwave warnings for much of central and southern Italy. Health officials also urged people to be mindful of the effects the heat could have on animals.

Updated: August 12th 2021, 2:19 PM