Italian firefighters suspected of setting fires to make money

Volunteer firefighters are under investigation for allegedly lighting fires for financial gain, Italian police said in a statement.

Fifteen firefighters in Sicily are under investigation for possible fraud related to fires dating back to 2013. It’s not known how many fires the group is suspected of starting or who directed the fires to be lit, police said. None of the firefighters has been identified.

According to police, the volunteers would light a fire and wait for someone to call it in. On other occasions, the volunteers would get friends or family members to call the emergency hotline and report a nonexistent fire.

An investigation was opened when authorities noticed the relatively high number of emergency calls received when the volunteers were on shift, police said. Authorities said the volunteers purposely lit fires so they would have to put them out and, in turn, get paid.

Southern Italy, including Sicily, has been plagued by wildfires this summer. “Extremely dry conditions” caused by a lack of rainfall has contributed to an outbreak of wildfires, according to NASA.

In June, Sicily saw 40% less rainfall and very hot weather. The lack of rainfall has left lakes and reservoirs “severely depleted” and has made firefighting more difficult, NASA said.