Fires stoked by hot winds tore through southern Italy on Thursday, a day after a monitoring station in Floridia, Sicily reported temperatures of 48.8C (119.8F) – levels some scientists believe could be the highest in European history.
Wednesday’s record temperature, which still needs to be verified by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), was reported close to the city of Syracuse, in the southeast of the island of Sicily, as an anticyclone nicknamed “Lucifer” swept in.
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“If the data is validated, it could become the highest value ever recorded in Europe, beating the previous record of 48 degrees measured in Athens on July 10, 1977,” meteorologist Manuel Mazzoleni wrote on 3Bmeteo.com, a specialist website.
Temperatures are expected to remain high on Friday and over the weekend.
Firefighters said on Twitter they had battles more than 500 blazes in Sicily and Calabria overnight, employing five planes to try to douse the flames from above.
They said the situation was now “under control” on the island.
The fires have had a fatal impact, with the death toll linked to wildfires at at least four people over the past week.
A 77-year-old shepherd who was found dead in the southern Calabria region was among the victims. Reports said he was in a farmhouse where he had apparently sought refuge with his flock.
“Yet another victim of the fires. We are losing our history, our identity is turning to ashes, our soul is burning,” Giuseppe Falcomata, the mayor of Reggio Calabria, a province in the Calabria region, wrote on Facebook.
He urged people to keep away from the affected areas.
Near Catania, Sicily, a 30-year-old farmer died when he was crushed by his tractor while fighting a blaze.
The blazes in Sicily are destroying trees and threatening property in the southern and central parts of the island, local media reported.
“We must immediately respond to this emergency, providing economic relief to those who have lost everything,” said agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli.
Fuelled by hot weather, fires have erupted across southern Europe in recent weeks, with huge damage to the landscape on the Italian island of Sardinia.
In Greece, many villages on the Peloponnese Peninsula were evacuated on Wednesday as exhausted firefighters battled wildfires for a ninth consecutive day.
At the other end of the Mediterranean, fires tore through forested areas of northern Algeria on Wednesday, killing at least 65 people, state television reported.