BREAKING NEWS

Fires in Amazon rainforest rage at record rate

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is experiencing a record amount of fires this year -- more than 74,000 outbreaks so far -- which is an 84 per cent increase from the same period in 2018, according to data from the country's space agency.

The National Institute for Space Research (IPNE) said it detected more than 74,000 fires between January 1 and August 20 -- the highest number since records began in 2013. According to the agency, it observed more than 9,500 forest fires since last Thursday, mostly in the Amazon region.

 
In comparison, there were slightly more than 40,000 in the same period of 2018, IPNE said. However, the worst recent year was 2016, with more than 68,000 fires in that period.

The head of Brazil's space agency was fired in July after President Jair Bolsonaro disputed the official deforestation data from satellites.

Greenpeace said that the wildfires were so intense that smoke loomed over the city of Sao Paulo, more than a thousand miles away. 

The satellite images showed Brazil's most northern state, Roraima, covered in dark smoke, while neighbouring Amazonas state declared an emergency over the fires. The hashtags #PrayforAmazonas and #AmazonRainforest were trending on Twitter on Wednesday.

US space agency NASA said: "Although it is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity it seems this year the number of fires may be record setting." 

NASA satellite images showed that the wildfires in the Brazilian rainforest are creating cross country smoke.

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is also home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

Environmental activists blamed President Bolsonaro for the current situation, saying he encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land. Scientists say the rainforest has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since he took office in January.

Bolsonaro, however, brushed off the latest data. He instead accused environmental groups of setting fires in the Amazon in a bid to deflect growing international criticism of his failure to protect the world's biggest rainforest.

According to reports, there was a sharp spike in deforestation during July, which was followed by extensive burning in August. 

Local newspapers said farmers in some regions were organizing "fire days" to take advantage of weaker enforcement by the authorities.

Since Bolsonaro took power the environment agency issued fewer penalties and Ministers made clear that their sympathies were with loggers rather than the indigenous groups who live in the forest, reports say.

An international outcry prompted Norway and Germany to halt donations to Brazil's Amazon fund, which supports many environmental NGOs as well as government agencies. There have also been calls for Europe to block a trade deal with Brazil and other South American nations.

Environmental activists said Bolsonaro's comments were an absurd attempt to deflect attention from the problem of poor oversight and tacit encouragement to illegal forest clearance. 

Bolivia is also experiencing unusually large wildfires that have reportedly destroyed 5,180 sq km (2,000 sq miles) of forest. 

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