updated 8/23/2007 5:49:44 AM ET 2007-08-23T09:49:44

Wind-whipped fires that have been ravaging parts of Sicily consumed a hotel near the port city of Messina on Wednesday, killing at least two people, authorities said.

Fire crews had been battling the blaze in Patti and other locations around Messina for hours when the fire reached the “Hawk’s Refuge,” a hotel on a working farm, fire officials said.

Firefighters and an official at the prefect’s office initially said three people had been killed. The ANSA news agency, however, later quoted the regional civil protection department as saying that only two people were killed at the hotel.

It wasn’t immediately possible to clear up the discrepancy. Calls to the regional civil protection department in Palermo went unanswered late Wednesday.

Arson suspected in second blaze
Elsewhere in Sicily, fire crews were battling another blaze in the hills above the seaside resort town of Cefalu which prompted a hospital to suspend surgeries as a precaution. ANSA reported that some villas on the outskirts of the town were damaged.

No injuries were reported from that fire, said Andrea Garifo, a fire official in the nearby town of Termini Imerese. About 20 to 30 people were evacuated from their homes, she said.

Garifo and the town’s mayor said arson was suspected. “A fire that erupts in five or six points some distance apart is suspicious,” Mayor Giuseppe Guercio said.

Late Wednesday, Defense Minister Arturo Parisi ordered troops to help battle the fires across southern Italy — in particular in Sicily, Calabria and in the Cilento area south of Naples — and said he was also sending army and navy helicopters to the regions.

Hot winds from northern Africa have been fanning the flames in Sicily and blowing away much of the water that air tanker planes have dumped on the fires.

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