ROME (AP) – Wind-whipped fires that have been ravaging parts of Sicily reached a hotel near the port of Messina on Wednesday, killing three people and leaving two others missing, authorities said.
Fire crews had been battling the blaze in Patti and other locations around Messina for hours when the fire reached the “Hawk’s Refuge,” a hotel in a working farm, fire officials said.
Three people were killed: one at the hotel, another who died in a hospital, and a third found near his car apparently trying to flee, said Carmelo Mussolino of the Messina prefect’s office.
Fire crews were battling another blaze in the hills above the seaside resort of Cefalu, which prompted a hospital to suspend “nonessential” operations.
No injuries were reported from that fire, which began Tuesday evening, said Andrea Garifo, a fire official in the nearby town of Termini Imerese.
About 20-30 people were evacuated from residences, Garifo said.
The hot winds of the scirocco, a wind that blows from northern Africa, have been fanning the flames in Sicily, devouring brush and trees. The strong winds have been blowing away much of the water that air tanker planes use to dump on the blaze.
Cefalu, about 45 miles east of Palermo, is a popular tourist destination, famed for its beaches and medieval architecture.
ANSA reported that some villas on the outskirts of the town of 15,000 people were damaged.
Garifo and the town’s mayor said arson was suspected.
“A fire that erupts in five or six points some distance apart is suspicious,” Mayor Giuseppe Guercio said.
Paramilitary Carabinieri police were sent to Cefalu to help fight the blaze and aid in the arson investigation, news reports said.
Most guests at the Hotel Alberi del Paradiso, some 4 miles from the fire, have chosen to remain, said Valeria Prestianni, an employee.
“The problem is the wind,” she said. “Even if they are flying the air tankers, there’s still a lot of smoke.” But only two guests, both Italians, decided to leave, she said, adding that hotel workers were watering the ground around the hotel as a precaution.
Other brush fires were reported elsewhere in Sicily, and on the mainland, including near the sea south of Naples and in Puglia, in southeast Italy.