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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Sicilian firefighters charged with starting blazes to earn overtime

The head of Ragusa's D Watch, Davide Di Vita, has been placed under house arrest by authorities

Fifteen firefighters have been arrested in Sicily on suspicion of having started fires in order to receive bonus payments. Credit: Giovanni Isolino/ AFP Photo
Fifteen firefighters have been arrested in Sicily on suspicion of having started fires in order to receive bonus payments. Credit: Giovanni Isolino/ AFP Photo

CATANIA//ITALY They were hailed as heroes when, seemingly without regard for their own life and limb, D Watch of the Raguso firefighting team would set off to take on another wildfire in the countryside around the southeastern Sicilian town during the period between 2013-15.

But suspicions were raised when other teams at the Santa Croce Camerina barracks began to wonder how D Watch managed to catch just so many conflagrations – the team led by Davide Di Vita was called out about three times as often as any other was.

Indeed, firefighters on other squads – all of whom were volunteers – tried hard to get themselves transferred onto Di Vita’s team – after all, they were copping €10 an hour for their efforts, money which isn’t to be sniffed at.

It was this discrepancy between the various shifts that eventually alerted investigators to the fast one that De Vita and his team of 14 were pulling – many of the fires that they were putting out had actually been started by themselves, and called in on the local 115 emergency line.

Davide De Vita, the head of a group of fifteen volunteer firefighters, was arrested for having started fires in Ragusa area. Credit: EPA/State Police of Ragusa.
Davide De Vita, the head of a group of fifteen volunteer firefighters, was arrested for having started fires in Ragusa area. Credit: EPA/State Police of Ragusa.

Di Vita, who works as a refrigeration plant engineer, was placed under house arrest while his 14 colleagues have been charged with fraud and arson for their spate of pyromania.

Prosecutors had called for all of the men, who hold down jobs in other sectors of society, to be arrested but police showed leniency citing the historic nature of the fires; they also claimed that Di Vita wanted to carry on with the campaign of deception while the other men had all owned up.

The men would wait until they were on call, before taking their work van and driving off to set fires in the dry landscape around Ragusa. Then either they, or friends and family, would call for the emergency services – sometimes using their own phones - and the team would then set off to put out their own work.

On one occasion, Di Vita is reported by Italian newspaper La Repubblica to have said that he wanted to set off a bomb for his squad to deal with. On other call-outs, when the team returned with their stocks of water intact, they would claim that because there were animals in the area they hadn’t been able to fight the blaze.

Southern Europe has just endured a scorching heatwave, during which temperatures have soared beyond 40 degrees celsius and there have been forest fires across the Mediterranean.