RIO DE JANEIRO — Fires are burning in the Amazon rainforest at one of the fastest paces in years, Brazil’s space research center said this week.
The center, the National Institute for Space Research, said Tuesday it had detected 74,155 fires this year in the world’s largest rainforest, an 84% increase from the same period in 2018.
The fires, most of which have been set by farmers clearing their land, are raging in uninhabited areas of rainforest and intruding on populated areas in the country’s north, including the states of Rondônia and Acre. About 4.5 million acres have burned.
The blazes are so large and widespread that smoke has wafted thousands of miles away to the Atlantic coast and São Paulo, the country’s most populous city, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Widely shared photos on social media showed darkened skies over São Paulo during the daytime, but researchers said they were working to understand whether that was connected to the fires.
On Wednesday, Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, accused nongovernmental organizations of setting the fires in the rainforest after the government pulled their funding, although he presented no evidence.
“It could be; it could; I’m not saying it is, a criminal action by these NGO people to call attention against me, against the Brazilian government,” he said. “This is the war we face.”
He said the government was working to control the blazes.
Researchers, environmentalists and former government officials have been alarmed by the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which is one of the world’s most important natural resources and plays a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide as global warming advances.
Deforestation of the Amazon has increased rapidly since Bolsonaro, who was elected in October, took office and his government cut back on efforts to confront illegal activity in the rainforest.
Critics say Bolsonaro’s policies have emboldened loggers, farmers and miners who want to clear out land illegally.
This month, a local newspaper in the Amazonian state of Pará, Folha do Progresso, announced that local farmers were planning a “Day of Fire” in August. Increases in the number of fires were recorded days later.