(CBS NEWSPATH) — Wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest have hit a record number this year, with 72,843 fires detected so far by Brazil’s space research centre INPE, as concerns grow over right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policy.
The surge marks an 83% increase over the same period of 2018, the agency said on Tuesday (August 20), and is the highest since records began in 2013.
Since last Thursday (August 15), INPE said satellite images spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the country, mostly in the Amazon basin, home to the world’s largest tropical forest seen as vital to countering global warming.
Large portions of the country were covered in thick smoke. The state of Amazonas declared an emergency in the south of the state and in its capital Manaus on August 9. The state of Acre, on the border with Peru, has been on environmental alert since Friday (August 16) due to the fires.
Wildfires have increased in Mato Grosso and Para, two states where Brazil’s agricultural frontier has pushed into the Amazon basin and spurred deforestation. Wildfires are common in the dry season, but are also deliberately set by farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching.
The unprecedented surge in wildfires has occurred since Bolsonaro took office in January vowing to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining, ignoring international concern over increased deforestation.