Fires stoked by hot winds swept through southern Italy on Thursday, a day after a monitoring station in Sicily reported temperatures of 48.8 Celsius (119.84°F) which some scientists believe could be the highest in European history.
The 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.
“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.
Firemen said on Twitter they had carried out more than 500 operations in Sicily and Calabria in the last 12 hours, employing five planes to try to douse the flames from above. They said the situation was now “under control” on the island.
Local media reported that trees and land were burning in the Madonie mountains some 100 km from the Sicilian capital of Palermo and in the small town of Linguaglossa, on the slopes of the Etna volcano.
“Our small town was really invaded by fire. It is a catastrophe … We are living through some really sad moments,” said Giovanna Licitra, from the village of Giarratana in the south of the island which was hit by fires on Wednesday.
Serious damage has also been reported in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s “boot”, where some families left their homes and a man died on Wednesday.
Temperatures are expected to rise in several Italian cities including the capital Rome on Friday, when the heatwave could reach its peak, according to a health ministry bulletin.