The two students – identified in the Italian press as Alessio Molteni and Daniele Borghi, both 22 – were having a cookout to celebrate the upcoming New Year at one of their grandparents’ mountain-side homes near Lake Como when the blaze broke out.
Molteni told La Stampa that he and Borghi immediately called the fire department and “threw ourselves into the flames to try to extinguish them.”
He claimed they were “scapegoats” for the blaze and that their barbecue did not spark the forest fire because there were “many outbreaks.”
Prosecutors said they traced the path of the fire back to the mountain-side property and said it had started from the embers from the barbecue.
The fire, which last several days, destroyed almost 2,500 acres of forest on Monte Berlinghera, the BBC reported
The fine was calculated by forest police based on an established formula under local laws, which calls for a fine of $135 to $670 per square meter. The estimated damage was calculated at some 6,840 square meters, La Stampa reported.
His attorney, Ivana Anomali, slammed the fine, telling La Stampa that fining the two students such a huge sum made no sense because they would never be able to pay it.
“What is the sense of imposing a sanction of €13.5 million ($15.3 million) each knowing that these two kids, who are still students, cannot pay it,” she said.
Prosecutors told local outlet Il Giorno Como that the fine was a “signal that we need to push people to greater responsibility in protecting the environment.”