Like any ignition, fire needs an outside heat source applied to the trifecta of available fuel, heat, and oxygen to burn. As the BBC News reported on Monday, the outside source of ignition for various wildfires in southern Sicily between 2013 to 2015 were a band of 15 volunteer firefighters.
They are accused of fraud in inflating received payments by both reporting fake fires and setting deliberate fires. They would receive about 10 Euros ($11.75 USD) an hour while on response.
Not surprisingly, they garnered initial suspicion because they received more dispatches than any other team and a review of the 115 emergency calls over that period often showed the same phone number reporting wildfire starts under different names.
Of all the variables that influence wildfire behavior – fuel, topography, and weather (wind and humidity), I think the motivation of the ignition source is the most difficult to define. While lightning is a natural source of fire, “human-caused ignitions” comprise the vast majority of wildfire starts. Agricultural burns can be understood. The spark from a target practice bullet or the blade of a lawn mower hitting a rock can fall under negligence. The abandoned campfire that continues to smolder can lead to criminality. Yet. It’s the motivation of an arsonist that remains not as clear cut as you may think.
2016’s Clayton Fire in Lake County, California, was lit by an arsonist suspected in a dozen other fires in the area dating back to the summer of 2015. The November 2016 NFPA Journal Wildfire Column explored that fire, what motivates people to set fires, and how to counter the anti-social behaviors of those who want to watch the world burn.
While greed and false-heroism may have motivated these fire setters in Sicily, it is the selfless acts of countless firefighters currently responding to wildfires from the Mediterranean coasts to Montana, and elsewhere, that truly define what emergency services are all about.