This file photo taken on July 10, 2017 shows fires in the Annunziata district of Messina, northeastern Sicily.
This file photo taken on July 10, 2017 shows fires in the Annunziata district of Messina, northeastern Sicily.

Fifteen firefighters have been arrested in Sicily on suspicion of having started fires in order to receive bonus payments, police on the Italian island said Monday.

The firemen are alleged to have faked distress calls as part of the plan to receive the payments of around 10 euros per hour handed out by the state for working in emergency situations.

A number of the 15 volunteer firemen arrested, all from the province of Ragusa, are suspected of arson.

The local fire service authorities had noticed an abnormal number of interventions by the team and launched an investigation.

Soaring temperatures and a prolonged drought are scorching swathes of Italy and wildfires in some areas have been blamed on arsonists.

The government declared a state of emergency on Monday to tackle drought conditions in the central regions of Umbria and Lazio, and two women were found dead in forest fires around Tivoli, some 30 km (19 miles) east of Rome.

Suspicions about the group were raised when the group responded to 120 incidents, compared with the 40 dealt with by other groups in the same time period, police said in a statement.

Only the ringleader, name as D.D.V., was considered sufficiently dangerous to be placed under house arrest, because he continued starting the fires after the others had stopped, police said.

In collusion with the others, D.D.V. left the base in his car, lit fires or made a false report, then came back to the fire station and waited to be called out to deal with it.

"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.

"On one occasion, D.D.V. even said he wanted to set off a bomb so as to take the money available if the emergency vehicles needed to be repaired."

The conspirators either used their own telephones to make the false emergency calls, or asked family and friends.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies