In the remote resort village of Calampiso, located on the northwestern coast of Sicily, a July wildfire has forced around 700 tourists to evacuate. Given the remote location of Calampiso, combined with the position of the fire, evacuees had no choice but to flee by boat.
Volunteer mariners transported evacuees to the nearby town of San Vito Lo Capo, located safely outside the vicinity of the fire, and everyone in the village was safely evacuated. The mayor of San Vito Lo Capo organized evacuation efforts through his Facebook page, urging any available mariners in the area to assist in the evacuation and asking citizen volunteers to drive evacuees from the port to local school buildings, for temporary refuge.
This was one of several wildfires that broke out across Southern Italy and Sicily as the region experiences a heat wave with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. While the heat contributed, Italian authorities have stated that most of the fires were caused by arson. Due to the high volume of wildfires igniting suddenly – 125 wildfires were simultaneously burning in Sicily alone – authorities have suggested the Mafia may be involved.
The actions of the mariners highlight the capacity of communities to organize and respond to disasters. This is not the first time that local mariners have come together to orchestrate ad hoc evacuations. After the September 11 attacks on Manhattan, approximately half a million people positioned south of Ground Zero found themselves between the crumbling towers and the two rivers that define the east and west borders of the city.
A Coast Guard officer aboard a pilot vessel observed the massive crowds forming on Manhattan’s seawalls, and issued a call requesting any available mariners to report to Governor’s Island and assist with the evacuation. The evacuation of NYC was the largest such operation in human history and was documented in a 2011 short documentary “Boatlift, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience” narrated by Tom Hanks.
The wildfire in Calampiso is just one example of an active wildfire season that has been unfolding across Europe this summer. Notably, a forest fire in Portugal last month resulted in the deaths of more than 60 people, including many who were attempting to flee in their cars. Some climate scientists are warning that such extreme heatwaves and extended wildfire seasons are quickly becoming the norm.
Sources and Further Reading
Italian wildfires kill 2 homeowners, force tourists to flee – The Washington Post
The Latest: 2 property owners die battling Italian wildfire – The Washington Post
Boatlifters: The unknown story of 9/11 – Reuters
Wildfires rage in Europe from Croatia to Portugal – Channel NewsAsia
Portugal Fires Kill More Than 60, Including Drivers Trapped in Cars – The New York Times