Italian police said Monday that 15 volunteer firefighters have been arrested in Sicily on suspicions they deliberately set blazes and reported fake fires to earn about $12 an hour.
Police in Italy’s Ragusa province said fire department officials became suspicious when it was revealed the auxiliary brigade responded to 120 incidents in 2013 and 2014 — compared to another group of volunteers who responded to just 40 incidents over the same period.
The brigade’s commander — Davide De Vita — is being held under house arrest because he is suspected of continuing to set fires even after others in the team stopped.
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.
Italian investigators said private phone calls of the team members were recorded as part of the investigation. Most team members are being investigated for fraud, while a few are suspected of arson.
Sicily deals with seasonal fires and authorities pay auxiliary firefighters to help extinguish the flames.
Soaring temperatures and a regional drought have caused dozens of dangerous wildfires in Italy this season.
By Andrew V. Pestano