It is not uncommon for human-generated blazes — lit to clear the land out for farming or ranching — in the Amazon rainforest to get out of control. However, this year, the number of wildfires has been extraordinarily high. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has recorded over 73,000 fires in the world's largest tropical rainforest between January and August 2019, 2,500 of which are currently active. This is the highest number observed since the agency began keeping records in 2013, and an astounding 80 percent more than during the first eight months of 2018.
Brazil, which is home to 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, has been the hardest hit. The intense smoke from the blazes currently covers half of the country and can be seen clearly from space. On August 22, a cold front caused winds to shift, carrying the smoke 1,700 miles away and darkening the skies of the country's largest and most populous city, São Paulo, for over an hour. "It was as if the day had turned into night," resident Gianvitor Dias told the BBC. "Everyone here commented because even on rainy days it doesn't usually get that dark. It was very impressive."
The fires have recently also spilled over to the neighboring country of Bolivia ,where they have thus far torched over 113,000 acres, including forests and grasslands in Chiquitania, a popular nature reserve.
While the area's dry season, which spans from August to November, is undoubtedly a factor in the unusually high number of fires, experts believe most of the blazes were started by people. The wildfires in the Brazilian state of Pará, for example, surged after the August 10, "day of fire" call by farmers to clear land for agriculture and cattle farming. “There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” INPE researcher Alberto Setzer told Reuters, He said, “The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”
Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, who says his country does not have the resources to battle the wildfires, is still trying to come up with a feasible plan to stop them from spreading farther. Meanwhile, Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, has dispatched hundreds of firefighters to the affected regions and deployed several light airplanes and six helicopters to fight the flames. On Wednesday, August 21, the South American leader announced he was adding a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" to help with the task. Capable of carrying 18,000 gallons of fire gel, fire retardant, foam, or water, the massive aircraft will be used to battle the most intense blazes.
International assistance to help fight the Amazon fires is expected to be the first topic of discussion at the two-day Group of 7, or G7, meeting that starts on August 24 in the seaside town of Biarritz, France. The summit, which includes leaders from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Japan, along with top E.U. officials, is held annually to discuss global challenges involving foreign policy, the economy, and environmental protection.
While all wildfires are harmful to the environment, the ones in the Amazon can be particularly so. Often referred to as the "lungs of the planet," the tropical rainforest generates more than 20% of the world's oxygen. It also sucks up about a quarter of the 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon that global forests absorb each year. The rainforest is, therefore, crucial in regulating global climate. Experts believe that if the Amazon disappears or is reduced in size drastically, it could change weather patterns everywhere, impacting everything from how much food farms can produce to the availability of clean drinking water. The tropical rainforest is also home to 10% off the world's known biodiversity, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna. Hopefully, countries worldwide will come together to save this all-important natural resource before it's too late.
Resources: Cnet.com, euronews.com,time.com,telesurenglish.net, Cnn.com