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Sicily travel warning: Wildfires force evacuation of tourists and transport disruption

Catania, a city on the east coast, registered 47.6 C on Monday afternoon.
Catania, a city on the east coast, registered 47.6 C on Monday afternoon. Copyright Michael Held
Copyright Michael Held
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
Published on Updated
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The heatwave that has been scorching southern Europe has increased the risk of fires and heat-related deaths in Italy.

If you are looking for advice on Sicily travel related to the closure of Catania airport,refer to this full guide.

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Wildfires have been raging across the Italian island of Sicily, spread by strong winds and arid conditions. 

The blazes have forced residents and tourists to evacuate and caused severe public transport disruption. 

Palermo Airport, which services the island’s capital, was forced to close early on Tuesday morning after fires broke out nearby.

Catania Airport, where an accidental fire damaged a terminal building earlier this month, remains partially closed leading to fears of huge economic losses from tourism. 

It comes as Sicily swelters in soaring temperatures, creeping towards the European record that was reached two years ago on the island.

Catania, a city on the east coast, registered 47.6 C on Monday afternoon.

Sicily wildfires: 'People cannot breathe'

According to local media reports, firefighters have succeeded in extinguishing large areas of the wildfires, but some are still raging including around the cities of Palermo, Catania and Messina.

Three people have died. The charred bodies of an elderly couple were found in their home near Palermo while a woman is reported to have died after an ambulance was prevented by the fire from reaching her house.

The 15th-century church of Santa Maria di Gesù in Palermo has been reduced to rubble by the flames.

Sicily's president Renato Schifani said the fire had made Tuesday "one of the most difficult days in decades". 

Authorities are already estimating that the wildfires have caused €260 million of damage. 

In Catania on the east coast, homes are without power and water supplies partly due to the heat. 

Local residents have taken to social media to bring attention to the disaster.

"People cannot BREATHE from how polluted and hot air is, they are being forced on the street because their homes are BURNING," writes Twitter user Carmen.

On Tuesday, Italian firefighters tackled 650 fires in Sicily. 

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Tourists evacuated from Sicily resorts amid wildfires

In Carruba di Riposto, just north of the city of Catania, a vast wildfire has devastated an area of rich vegetation.

As a precaution, guests at the resorts of Donna Carmela and San Antonio and the Galea agritourism have been evacuated.

Near Trapani on the west coast of the island, resorts and hotels in San Vito Lo Capo have also been evacuated.

The renowned archaeological park of Segesta has been badly affected by fires too. The park is home to some of Italy’s most important ancient buildings.

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This includes the Doric Temple dating from the 5th century BC, which local reports say was engulfed in flames on Monday night.

Fire forces closure of major Sicily airport

A wildfire caused Palermo’s Falcone Borsellino Airport to halt air traffic on Tuesday according to an announcement on social media.

The blaze broke out on Monday evening above the town of Cinisi with firefighters battling to contain it throughout the night.

The airport, which serves the island’s capital, published a tweet stating that a limited number of outbound flights were being permitted to leave. A plane from the Italian city of Turin had also been able to land.

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Later, the airport confirmed it was operative for departing flights but inbound services were will dependent on weather conditions.

The blaze also caused road and rail disruption in the surrounding area. 

Catania airport was forced to close last week due to a fire in the terminal building and is still not fully operational. Only 50 per cent of usual flights are able to land and depart.

It has prompted fears that the island will be hit by economic losses from cancelled tourist visits. 

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In response, the Italian government is planning to set aside €10 million to reimburse plane tickets and hotel reservations of tourists without insurance coverage, according to Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci.

Refunds will be valid for flights and reservations from the date of the Catania airport closure on 16 July. 

Sicily swelters in over 45 degree heat

The heatwave that has been scorching southern Europe has increased the risk of fires and heat-related deaths in Italy.

In Sicily, the mercury hit 46.7 C in Catania, just short of the European record of 48.8 that was registered in Syracuse in 2021.

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On Tuesday, 16 cities in Italy were put on red alert because of the soaring temperatures, including Palermo and Catania.

In the northern city of Milan, a storm on Monday night ripped off roofs and uprooted trees. Roads have been blocked and the overground transport system is facing disruption.

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