There have been a record number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest this year, according to the country’s space agency.
The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said there have been 74,155 fires detected so far this year.
It is the highest number since records began and marks an 84% rise on the same period last year.
There have been 35,590 this month alone.
The sky turned black over the city of Sao Paolo on Monday, with smoke and ash blotting out the sun in the middle of the afternoon.
The EU’s Copernicus satellite released data showing that smoke from the Amazon had made its way thousands of miles across the country to the city.
There’s more: some São Paulo residents collected rain yesterday when the sky turned dark (from a combination of a cold front & forest fires thousands of miles away). This is what it looked like, & they say it smelled like smoke. https://t.co/Oxbv4AN0Ku
— Shannon Sims (@shannongsims) August 21, 2019
There are also huge fires burning in Bolivia and Paraguay – which is closer to the city.
It comes after the agency warned that there has been a huge increase in destruction of the Brazilian rainforest since Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro came to power.
Data released earlier this summer warned that the forest endured 88% more deforestation in June than it did in the same month last year.
Latest #Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service aerosol forecast shows smoke from widespread fires in Amazonia reaching Atlantic coast & Sao Paolo https://t.co/RkgZAHVy27 following increased fire activity especially in states of Amazonas & Rondonia since 1 August in GFAS data. pic.twitter.com/ZIrWV8kF9m
— Mark Parrington (@m_parrington) August 20, 2019
President Bolsonaro responded by sacking the head of the agency.
This week, he downplayed the importance of the spreading wildfires, noting that it is currently the “season of the queimada” in Brazil – the time of year when farmers use fire to clear land.
The INPE space agency said the huge rise in the number of fires is caused by human activity – and cannot be blamed solely on the dry season or natural phenomenon.
INPE researcher Alberto Setzer told Reuters that the climate in the Amazon has been normal this year, with rainfall, “just a little below average.”
“The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire,” he said. “But starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”
— turducken (@turducken10) August 21, 2019
Brazil is home to more than half of the Amazon Rainforest – which creates 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and is often referred to as the lungs of the world.
Earlier this month, NASA released satellite images showing massive fires burning across four Brazilian states – Rondônia, Amazonas, Pará, and Mato Grosso.
Despite the huge increases in Brazil, it said that, as of August 16th, total fire activity across the Amazon basin was slightly below average this year.
The increases have mostly affected the states of Amazonas and Rondônia – with Amazonas declaring a national emergency earlier this month.