Twenty-seven million euros — that's the fine two young Italian male students risk getting if they're found guilty of causing a fire in the Lake Como region last year.
"An end-of-the-year barbecue became a disastrous fire that ravaged 680 hectares of forest in the mountain above Sorico, in the province of Como," wrote regional newspaper La Provincia di Como.
The culprits behind the fire were found by a forensic investigation that traced the origin of the flames. A mix of photographic and video evidence along with data was able to identify where the blaze was started. The investigators established that everything originated from a barbecue outside the mountain cabin belonging to one of the men's grandfathers. The blaze lasted a few weeks because of strong wind.
The two men were then investigated by the Como deputy prosecutor, Simona de Salvo who accused them of involuntarily starting a fire, which endangered houses in the vicinity and caused significant environmental damage.
But for now, the fate of the two young men remains uncertain. Once the investigations are over, a criminal trial will begin, which will determine whether the pair is guilty. If they are, they will have to pay the fine, which would be considered as the administrative penalty for the crime. They could also face a penal term.
Why is the amount so huge?
The bill is so high because of a 2008 regional law in Lombardy that sets out fines for those who initiate a fire in a forest area. The sum is calculated based on a formula used to determine the extent of damage caused by a fire.
Colonel Carlo Chiavacci, the commander of the Carabinieri Forestry Group of Como, told Italian news agency ANSA the boys would be fined €13.5 million per head according to the law, which would have to be paid in 60 days if they're found guilty.
"In case the fine is confirmed, it is clear that not only these two young men but their children and grandchildren will have this sword of Damocles hanging over their heads," the lawyer of one of the boys, Ivana Anomali, told Euronews.
The lawyer added that the two young men "will probably never be able to buy a house, a car, and their salaries will be reduced" if they are slammed with such a huge bill.
But the defendant's lawyer argues that the law is out of touch with reality and a maximum amount should be established for the sanction, as is done in criminal law.
On top of the fine imposed by authorities, the two men could also have to pay indemnities to the owners of any damaged property.