ROME, August 14 (Reuters) – Italian police on Saturday arrested two farmers in Sicily on suspicion of starting recent forest fires to create pasture for their sheep, and said they were preparing another large and dangerous blaze .
Forest fires ravaged swathes of southern Italy this summer, aided by record temperatures, ravaging forests in Calabria and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Read more
Police in Syracuse, in southeastern Sicily, an area where temperatures reached nearly 49 degrees Celsius (120.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, said their investigations showed the men were responsible for at least two of a series of fires in the area in July.
“Their goal was to increase the grazing area for their animals with the stated intention of saving money on fodder,” police said in a statement.
Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani said at least 70% of forest fires this summer were started deliberately or recklessly. Police last week caught a man lighting a dry shrub in the countryside near Naples.
Authorities cite various grounds for arson involving forest fires, ranging from clearing land for grazing or construction, to insurance claims and even creating overtime for firefighters.
Police said their tapes of the two men’s conversations showed they were planning another fire on Sunday to clear a much larger area of land “with unimaginable consequences for the environment, public order and safety.”
Greece and Turkey have also battled large forest fires in recent weeks.
(This story corrects the spelling of the city name in the fourth paragraph in Syracuse)
Reporting by Gavin Jones Editing by Frances Kerry
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