'Day Turned Into Night': The Amazon Rainforest Is Burning At Record Rates

One a winter's afternoon, a Brazilian city was plunged into darkness. 

By 3:30pm on Monday, thick, black clouds covered Sao Paolo, one of the world's most populous cities that sits about 450 kilometres south-west of Rio de Janeiro.

Half an hour later, local outlets and social media users reported the sky was near black.

"It was as if the day had turned into night," local 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."

Multiple factors appear to have been behind the smoke over Sao Paolo at the time.

Joselia Pegorim, a meteorologist with local weather broadcaster Climatempo, told one outlet strong winds brought in smoke from "very dense and wide fires" that have been burning thousands of kilometres away in the state of Rondonia and Bolivia.

"The cold front changed direction and its winds transported the smoke to Sao Paolo," Pegorim said.

But the hour of darkness has shone light on a surge in wildfires that are raging in the Amazon rainforest -- a critical ecosystem to combat global warming -- as deforestation increases under right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

A charred trunk on a tract of Amazon jungle that was recently burned by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state. Photo: Reuters

So far this year, the National Institute For Space Research (INPE), has detected 72,843 forest fires burning in Brazil -- the highest number since records began in 2013.

The INPE said it had observed more than 9,500 new fires since Thursday alone -- mostly in the Amazon basin.

The surge marks an 83 percent increase over the same period in 2018, when the agency recorded fewer than 40,000 fires across the whole year.

Satellite images released by NASA show "heightened fire activity" in July and August.

Fires burning in the states of Rondonia, Amazonas, Para and Mato Gross on August 13. Photo: NASA

The U.S. space agency said while overall fire activity in the Amazon basin was slightly below average, it had increased in the states of Amazonas and Rondonia and decreased in Mato Gross and Para.

Wildfires are common in the dry season, but can also be deliberately set by farmers who are illegally deforesting land for cattle ranging. INPE researcher Alberto Setzer said the number of fires was not in line with those normally reported during dry season, according to Reuters.

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"There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average," Setzer said.

"The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident."

It comes as criticism mounts over President Bolsonaro's environmental policies, with scientists claiming the Amazon is being deforested at an accelerated rate since he took office in January.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: AAP

Bolsonaro has vowed to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining, ignoring concern over increased deforestation.

He recently fired the director of INPE after he criticised agency statistics showing an increase in deforestation in Brazil, saying they were inaccurate.

“I am waiting for the next set of numbers, that will not be made up numbers. If they are alarming, I will take notice of them in front of you,” he told reporters.

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Featured image: Reuters

With Reuters.