Fires raging in vast stretches of the Amazon rainforest this week are darkening the skies of cities thousands of miles away, turning rainwater black, and setting disturbing records, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, better known as INPE. The agency, which uses satellite imagery to monitor fires in the world’s largest rainforest, said this week that the Amazon is burning at the fastest rate since 2013, when it began keeping records.
The 72,843 fires in Brazil this year mark an 84 percent increase over this time last year, with INPE recording a new fire somewhere in the country roughly every minute.
Cities as far as 2,000 miles away from the Amazon have seen smoke wafting through the skies and dark clouds turning the day into night. It happened in São Paulo Monday, where the sky darkened in the late afternoon, leading to some ominous comparisons to Brazil’s largest city. The meteorologist Josélia Pegorim told Globo that the smoke came “from very dense and wide fires that have been happening for several days in [the state of] Rondonia and Bolivia.”
Environmentalists blame the fires on increased logging and the loosening of regulations by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s right-wing president who has been known to call himself “Captain Chainsaw.” One researcher has estimated that 99 percent of the fires are the result of human activity, led by the actions of ranchers who set fires to illegally clear land for raising cattle. Bolsonaro has been accused of encouraging loggers and farmers to seize control of the Amazon, and the $23 million cut from the budget of Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency is said to have emboldened the activity.
Bolsonaro sees things differently. He’s said the current fires are normal this time of year, despite the record breaking rates, and suggested subterfuge as the real cause of the blazes, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Mr. Bolsonaro said Wednesday that foreign-backed nonprofit groups may have started some of the fires as a way to attack him personally, without elaborating. The president has argued that excessive environmental controls introduced under his left-wing predecessors are crippling the nation’s development, saying that Brazil has a sovereign right to make its own decisions about the Amazon.
Bolsonaro’s administration has previously clashed with INPE. Earlier this month, he fired INPE’s director after criticizing the agency over data that shows an increase in Amazon deforestation. Ricardo Galvão lost his job after INPE data showed an 88 percent increase in deforestation in June compared to the same time last year. Bolsonaro called the numbers “lies” and Galvão responded by saying Bolsonaro was behaving “like he is in a bar.”