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Plumes of smoke rise over Mount Vesuvius as seen from Naples, Italy July 11, 2017, in this image obtained from social media. Sam Stewart/Handout via REUTERS


ROME (Reuters) - Seven hundred tourists were evacuated by boat from wildfires in Sicily on Wednesday, local media reported, as swathes of southern Italy burnt after months with little rainfall.

There were no reports of injuries caused by the blaze at the Calampiso seaside resort west of the island's capital Palermo, but the mayor of a nearby town appealed for help in the rescue.

"We need minibuses and cars to pick people up at the little port and take them to school buildings," Matteo Rizzo, mayor of San Vito Lo Capo, wrote on Facebook. "Let's all do something."

Temperatures have soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) in arid southern regions. Twenty-three fires were raging on Wednesday, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a speech, adding the government was "actively following this difficult situation".

Blazes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius have sent vast clouds of smoke into the air near the port city of Naples, and Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said a man had been arrested on suspicion of arson.

"If someone set fire to Vesuvius, I want to see them in jail for 15 years," Galletti was quoted saying in Italian media. He added that a decision would be made in the next few hours about whether to send the army to the affected areas.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said thousands of people, animals, and a nature reserve were at risk around the volcano.

"The situation is extreme, so extraordinary action needs to be taken," WWF said in a statement.

Drought in the northern agricultural provinces of Parma and Piacenza prompted the government last week to declare states of emergency, which will free up extra funds to tackle the crisis.

Opposition politicians called for a similar response to the wildfires. Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, wrote on his blog: "#Vesuviusisburning" and called for a national state of emergency to be declared.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by Andrew Roche)

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