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Amazon wildfires hit record numbers this year

Amazon wildfires hit record numbers this year
© Getty Images

Wildfires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest have hit a record high this year amid concerns over President Jair Bolsonaro's rollback of environmental protections, Reuters reported Tuesday. 

Brazil’s space research center INPE has detected 72,843 fires so far this year, an 83 percent increase over the same period of 2018.

That figure is also the highest since records started in 2013.

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Since Thursday, INPE has observed 9,507 new forest fires in the country, mostly in the Amazon basin.

Several cities in Brazil have been covered in dark smoke in the last few days, triggering environmental alerts in some regions.

The spike in wildfires has occurred since Bolsonaro vowed in January to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining.

While wildfires are common during the dry season, they are often deliberately set by farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching.

Bolsonaro brushed off criticism related to the fires, saying it was the time of the year when new land is cleared via fire.

“I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada,” he told reporters, per Reuters.

INPE contradicted that claim, arguing that the dry season and natural phenomena could not explain the spike by themselves.

“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.

"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," he added.

Bolsonaro fired the last director of INPE after he criticized agency statistics showing an increase in deforestation in Brazil.

“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,” the president told reporters, per Reuters.