Italian forest fires 'started by the Mafia'

Forest fires that devastated the Italian countryside this summer were started by the Mafia, an Italian government minister has claimed.

It is believed the gangsters hope to muscle in on property and reconstruction deals or insurance pay-outs by starting the fires, which were fuelled by this summer's heatwave and prolonged drought.

Blazes consumed 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) from the tourist resorts of Sardinia to the Amalfi coast in the south, said the Interior Minister, Giuseppe Pisanu.

"The dramatic experiences of these last few weeks point to a real and existing 'fire industry'," he said.

Authorities were investigating the possibility that the fires were started by an "eco-Mafia better known for its illegal waste disposal operations, he added. An estimated 11 million tonnes of industrial waste disappear yearly in a multi-billion-euro racket. Illegal construction schemes on protected land have also raised concerns for historical and natural sites.

Earlier this week police accused the Naples-based Mafia, known as the Camorra, of burning down a pine forest park in Castelfusano, a coastal town west of Rome.

Police say the fire was started by a chemical element and suspect the Camorra either wanted to get its hands on a reforestation contract or wanted to intimidate the company managing the park.

Mr Pisanu warned that changes would have to be made to environmental laws to ensure that "eco-crimes" don't grow out of control.

Across Italy, more than 100,000 firefighters rushed to put out 1,643 blazes in June and July, and spot fires have continued to consume northern forests and coastal parks.

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