Italy — Thousands of tourists were trapped on Tuesday on beaches in southern Italy’s Puglia region by a fast-moving brush fire that killed two people, local authorities said.
Emergency services used patrol boats and helicopters to whisk some 4,000 holidaymakers and residents to safety, media reported. Authorities said earlier in the day four people had died, but later said they could only confirm two deaths. Many had rushed to the beach in bathing suits, leaving all their belongings behind as they tried to escape the flames.
The fire spread quickly, threatening hotels and holiday villages, port police said. The nationalities of those involved were not immediately clear.
Elena Gentile, in charge of social affairs in the regional council, said two people, a brother and sister in their 80s, were found burnt to death in a car.
She had said that two people were asphyxiated on a beach, but later said she was unable to confirm that.
The fire swept close to houses in the village of Peschici, forcing the evacuation of a hotel, several camp sites and tourist sites.
Wildfires, often caused by people casually throwing burning cigarettes on the ground but also by illegal builders who want to clear the land from protected forests, are common in Italy during the summer and are spreading faster than usual in the current heat wave.
The head of the Civil Protection authority, Guido Bertolaso, said it was very likely the series of fires devastating the region had been wilfully started.
The authority said it had received 70 calls to send in fire extinguishing planes on Tuesday alone. One pilot died on Monday when his plane crashed in the mountainous central region of Abruzzo.