Things to Know About the Fires Blazing Across the Amazon Rainforest

August 23, 2019

Experts say the majority of blazes were set by farmers hoping to clear land for agricultural endeavors.

Since January, a staggering 74,155 fires have broken out across Brazil, the country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported Wednesday. This figure—an 85 percent uptick from the same point in 2018—includes more than 9,000 blazes spotted within the past week and represents the highest rate recorded since documentation began in 2013.

Crucially, environmentalists point out, the vast majority of the infernos are not wildfires, but rather intentional land clearing attempts undertaken by farmers and loggers emboldened by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-business policies. Regardless of origin, the blazes, now large enough to be seen from space, pose a significant threat to the Amazon, which is popularly known as the “lungs” of the planet due to its capacity for storing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. As Terrence McCoy writes for the Washington Post, the rainforest is “one of the world’s greatest defenses against climate change.”

Why fires are raging on such a large scale

According to McCoy, infernos have razed 7,192 square miles of Brazil’s Amazon region this year to date. Comparatively, Amazonian fires caused roughly half this damage—cutting through 3,168 square miles—over the same period in 2017. Andrew Freedman reports for the Washington Post that the number of fires recorded in 2019 greatly surpasses the 67,790 seen at this point in 2016, when a strong El Niño event created severe drought conditions in the area.

“This is without any question one of only two times that there have been fires like this [in the Amazon],” ecologist Thomas Lovejoy tells National Geographic’s Sarah Gibbens. “There’s no question that it’s a consequence of the recent uptick in deforestation.”

Speaking with Reuters’ Lisandra Paraguassu, INPE researcher Alberto Setzer explains that the blazes cannot be attributed to the dry season or natural phenomena alone. “The dry season creates … favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” he adds. (Christian Poirier, program director of the non-profit organization Amazon Watch, tells CNN’s Jessie Yeung that the humid rainforest is generally less likely to catch on fire than, say, the dry bushlands of California and Australia.)

Since taking office in October 2018, Bolsonaro has emphasized economic development over environmental concerns—a policy pattern that has led to an uptick in agriculture, mining and deforestation across the Amazon. According to the Post’s Freedman, farmers use forest fires, often illegally, to clear land for cattle ranching and growing soybeans, as well as paving the way for future development. A report published by the local Folha do Progresso newspaper earlier this month suggested that farmers in the state of Para were planning to hold a “day of fire” August 10. As the individuals behind the initiative explained, they hoped to “show the president that we want to work” to advance regional production.

In total, Setzer tells the Wall Street Journal’s Samantha Pearson and Luciana Magalhaes, he estimates that 99 percent of the fires are the result of human activity.

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The blazes in the Amazon are so big they can be seen from space. One map shows the alarming scale of the fires.

In the last couple of weeks, thousands of fiery infernos have sparked across the Amazon rainforest, razing tropical vegetation, trees, and the fauna they house.

Since August 15, more than 9,500 new forest fires have started across Brazil, primarily in the Amazon basin. The blazes — and the choking smoke clouds they create— are visible from space. The NASA satellite image above shows how far the smoke has traveled over the continent.

Global Forest Watch, an organization sponsored by the World Resources Institute to monitor forests and track fires using satellite data, reported more than 109,000 fire alerts in Brazil between August 13 and yesterday.

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The Amazon is on Fire – How Bad Is It?

Thousands of fires are ravaging the Amazon rainforest in Brazil – the most intense blazes for almost a decade.
The northern states of Roraima, Acre, Rondônia and Amazonas have been particularly badly affected.
However, images purported to be of the fires – including some shared under the hashtag #PrayforAmazonas – have been shown to be decades old or not even in Brazil.

So what’s actually happening and how bad are the fires?
There have been a lot of fires this year.
Brazil has seen a record number of fires in 2019, Brazilian space agency data suggests.
The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) says its satellite data shows an 85% increase on the same period in 2018.

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