Volunteer firefighters charged with starting blazes to earn extra cash in Sicily

Firefighters get to work in the Annunziata district of Messina as a fire rages

Fifteen volunteer firefighters have been charged with starting blazes in Sicily so that they could claim a €10 an hour call-out fee.

The 15 firefighters are volunteers, but when called in off-duty they receive 10 euro (£9) an hour in compensation from the Italian government.

The police were tipped off by fire department officials who had noticed one team of auxiliaries was called out more often than others to work in 2013 and 2014.

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The head of a firefighting squad has been put under house arrest and others are under investigation, police said.

The fifteen volunteer fire fighters, all from the province of Ragusa, in southern Sicily, have been arrested for fraud to the damage.

Other members have since admitted to calling emergency services and getting friends or relatives to do the same in order to get called out to respond. Other times, the suspects allegedly set fire to rubbish containers or land in the countryside.

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"He demonstrated a sharp criminal ability and had no fear about the consequences of his behaviour", the statement said, adding the investigators had recorded the suspects' private conversations.

In collusion with some of the brigade, DDV allegedly left the station in his van, lit fires or made false emergency reports, then came back and waited to be called out to deal with it.

Fires have been reported across Sicily and the rest of Italy this summer, with one Sicilian blaze forcing the evacuation of more than 700 people, many of them tourists, by boat last month.

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