Forest fire occurrence in the Brazilian Amazon, 1999-2015. There was a sharp increase in forest fire occurrence in the Brazilian Amazon in 2015. Graphic: INPE-QUEIMADAS

By Natália Girão Rodrigues de Mello
8 September 2016

( – From the speeding boat, the jungle was a single block of green, its shades recycled across the riverbank and reflected on the thick, black water. The steam rolling from the trees was as foamy as the tracks we were leaving. Birds cut the clouds with their multicolored feathers. The forest around us was dense, hot, all humming and watching. The hard light confused our senses.

Daniel was silent, scratching his head and reinforcing my suspicion that we were lost. But he is at home in the jungle. He works in the Brazilian Amazon as an environmental educator with sharp humor and a furry voice.

We met in Manaus, a city nestled in the Amazon rainforest. He proposed we talk on a small motor boat, so we could go deeper into the heart of the forest. And so we did. He was the pilot and lecturer; he likes speed – fast boat and short words. He is the voice of all beings who inhabit the Amazon. They want to be heard.

For three months, from September to December 2015, Manaus was engulfed in smoke, resembling Beijing. That was an unusual scene, and an undeniable sign that predatory exploration in the Brazilian Amazon has not yet been properly tackled.

The sharp decrease in the annual rates of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon is celebrated worldwide. The trend started in 2005 after a peak in deforestation the year before; 27,772 square kilometers were deforested in 2004 (about 6.9 million acres). In 2012, the forest loss rate reached its lowest level since records began in 1977, having dropped to 4,571 square kilometers (about 1.1 million acres).

However, the figures are not so bright when it comes to forest fires, and few people are talking about that. The number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon is alarming, and that was especially true in 2015, when a sharp increase in forest fires occurred, as illustrated in the graph.

Natural factors alone fail to explain this recent increase, as similar climatic conditions in the past were not associated with the same amount of forest fires.

Forest fires and precipitation are strongly correlated in the Brazilian Amazon; in dry years, more forest fires occur. 2015 was a dry year, but not as dry as 2010 or 2005 were – years when the region faced anomalous droughts. Nevertheless, in 2015, forest fires increased 115.6 percent and 105.5 percent compared to 2005 and 2010, respectively. Hence it is safe to say that the peak observed last year was strongly associated with unregulated anthropogenic activities in the forest.

In the region, using fire in order to clear large areas is a common practice. The expansion of roads, settlements, croplands and cattle ranches has been leading fires to reach ever-wider areas of the forest. [more]

The alarming number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon



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