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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 18:25 GMT
Sicilians fight 'Satanic' fires
Theories of demonic intervention are rife in a Sicilian coastal village where mysterious fires have driven people from their homes.

Since mid-January dozens of domestic items have spontaneously burst into flames, badly damaging houses and spreading panic in Canneto di Caronia.

Police evacuated some residents and there have been calls for an exorcism.

Experts on electricity, magnetic fields, telephones and geology are baffled by the phenomenon.

The most likely cause is a "dispersion of electrical energy", said the regional civil defence chief, but the origin remains unclear.

Exploding presents

The incidents began in mid-January, when a television in the town reportedly caught fire.

Dozens of electrical goods such as vacuum cleaners and even pieces of furniture have spontaneously burst into flames.

One resident, Gaetano Pezzino, said that his daughter's wedding presents, left piled in one of his rooms, had gone up in flames, causing a fire "that burnt down half the house".

Filippo Casella, 84, said he was prepared to sleep in the open air if required, even though it is winter. "I often did it during World War II, and I can do it again," he said.

Conflicting theories

Theories range from arson to a freak power surge - or even the supernatural.

Italian utility Enel cut off the town's power after the first reports, but the fires continued.

Suspicions have also centred on the nearby railway line, but that has now been discounted.

Many residents believe the town is possessed by an evil spirit, said the Mayor, Pedro Spinnato.

"I've seen things like this before," Catholic exorcist Gabriele Amorth told the Italian daily Il Messagero. "Let's not forget that Satan and his followers have immense powers."


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