Out-of-control Amazon fires have surged since 2018

22 Aug 2019

Image: © pedarilhos/Stock.adobe.com

Satellite data has shown a record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest, often referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet’.

Climate researchers and advocates are ringing alarm bells over data that shows the number of out-of-control wildfires in the Amazon has reached record levels, prompting strong criticism of Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.

According to the country’s National Institute for Space Research, satellite data has shown an 84pc increase in fires compared with the same time last year. This amounts to 74,000 fires in Brazil alone, compared with 40,000 in 2018.

Since 15 August, more than 9,500 new forest fires have been recorded in the Amazon basin. With four months to go in 2019, this year has already seen the highest number of fires since records began in 2013.

Estimates have put the size of the giant smoke cloud produced by these fires to be almost 2m sq kilometres across, with residents in São Paulo – 2,700km away – claiming that the smoke clouds are blotting out the sun.

Often referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet’, the Amazon rainforest produces approximately 20pc of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere across more than 3m sq kilometres. While the region’s dry season runs from July to October, increasing the risk of wildfires, farmers and loggers during this time burn land to clear more space, often resulting in fires that go out of control.

‘Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame’

Last month, it was reported that under the Bolsonaro government there has been record deforestation with approximately 1,345 sq km felled in July alone. This was an increase of 39pc when compared with July 2018.

According to the BBC, NASA has said that overall fire activity this year in the Amazon basin is actually slightly lower than 2018. While an increase has been detected in the states of Amazonas and Rondonia – where states of emergency have been declared – it has decreased elsewhere such as in Mato Grosso and Pará.

Regarding claims that São Paulo residents are being affected by the cloud, some meteorologists have claimed that it is actually the product of fires closer to home in neighbouring Paraguay.

Bolsonaro has dismissed the urgency of these reports, saying that this is just the “season of the queimada” when farmers clear land.

“I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame,” he said.

He later went on to claim that NGOs had set the blazes deliberately for revenge after his government slashed their funding, adding that there were “no written records about the suspicions”.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic