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Probe underway after fire blankets Rome in cloud of thick, toxic smoke

The aftermath of a massive fire that broke out Rome is seen Sunday as firefighters continued to work to extinguish the blaze. Photo by Claudio Peri/EPA-EFE
The aftermath of a massive fire that broke out Rome is seen Sunday as firefighters continued to work to extinguish the blaze. Photo by Claudio Peri/EPA-EFE

July 10 (UPI) -- Italian authorities said Sunday they are not ruling out arson as a possible cause for a massive fire in Rome that blanketed much of the eastern area of ​​the capital in thick smoke.

The fire that broke out Saturday in Rome's Centocelle Park and Cinecitta areas produced a dense cloud of black smoke containing toxic substances that was visible for miles across the city, and even from the sea, residents said.

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Initial investigations indicated the blaze began in an automobile junkyard and quickly spread to neighboring structures. More than 100 firefighters responded to the scene and thousands of people were evacuated, officials said.

No one was injured in the spectacular fire but some firefighters were sickened by the intense heat as they continued to battle the blaze late into Saturday night, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The Rome Public Prosecutor's Office said Sunday they are not ruling out any possible causes for the blaze, including criminal activity, as magistrates have launched a formal investigation.

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Saturday's fire was the fourth major blaze to hit the Italian capital in less than a month, prompting Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri to assure residents the authorities are seeking to get a handle on the situation.

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"The fires that have ravaged the city these past few days are an impressive sequence of episodes that is putting Rome and the Romans to the test," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"We are constantly monitoring the situation and we do not yet know if these are criminal or just negligence," he added. "This is not the time for political speculation and division. It is the time of unity, of proximity to the Romans and to the affected Romans, and of determination not to be intimidated and to move forward on the path of modernization and relaunch of Rome."

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