Fires raging in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have hit a record high number this year, according to new data from the country’s space research agency, as concerns grow over President Jair Bolsonaro’s management of the environment.
Nearly 73,000 fires were recorded between January and August, compared with 39,759 in all of 2018, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said on Monday. The surge marks an 83 percent increase over the same period last year and is the highest since INPE records began in 2013.
Satellite images spotted more than 9,500 new forest fires since Thursday alone, mostly in the Amazon basin, home to the world’s largest tropical forest and seen as vital to slowing the pace of global warming.
Images showed the northernmost state of Roraima covered in dark smoke, while neighbouring Amazonas declared an emergency in the south of the state and in its capital Manaus over the blazes. Acre, on the border with Peru, has been on environmental alert since Friday due to the fires.
A daytime blackout on Monday in Sao Paulo caused by smoke brought in by strong winds from forest fires in Amazonas and the state of Rondonia, more than 2,700km away, prompted tens of thousands of people to take to social media and voice their concerns for the welfare of the Amazon rainforest.
The hashtag #prayforamazonia subsequently became a global Twitter trend, with some commentators criticising Bolsonaro for not doing enough to protect the environment.
The unprecedented surge in fires has occurred since Bolsonaro took office in January vowing to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining, ignoring international concern over increased deforestation.