Rome (AFP)

A volunteer fireman has been caught setting fires in northern Italy as the drought-ravaged country struggled Friday to contain wildfire blazes.

Italy's fire brigade was tackling flames nationwide, where a relentless heat wave has turned fields and woods into tinder. With the wind picking up, nine regions launched urgent appeals for water planes.

The president of the Calabria region, Mario Oliverio, called on the government to send in the army as exhausted firefighters and civil protection volunteers raced to stop the flames reaching villages.

In the Lombardy region, the 28-year-old arsonist was filmed on a security camera setting hedges and rubbish bins alight before returning to base, sounding the alarm and rushing along with the colleagues to put the fire out.

Police said he had set at least seven fires since 2014.

On Monday, 15 firefighters were arrested in Sicily on suspicion of having started fires in order to receive bonus payments.

"You cannot link the concept of earning a salary and firefighting in a period of economic crisis such as this," said Antonio Brizzi, secretary general of the Conapo fire fighters' union.

"Cuts mean we have 3,500 fewer firemen than necessary, which has led in some cases to a hurried use of volunteers," adding that the latter needed to be chosen on more stringent psychological tests.

While much of the country sweltered, the heat in the Veneto region resulted in violent storms overnight Thursday to Friday which lashed the area, landing three people in hospital and lightly injuring 45 others.

Agence France-Presse

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