Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest reached their highest level in August since 2010, according to government data released on Wednesday, surpassing the blazes that attracted global notice shortly after President Jair Bolsonaro took office.
INPE, the national space research agency, recorded 31,513 fire alerts in the Amazon via satellite in the first 30 days of the month, making it the worst August since 2010, when 45,018 fires were reported for the entire month.
Most of INPE’s Amazon fire alerts in an average year come in August and September – considered the burning season in the region, when rains often subside to let ranchers and farmers often set fire to deforested areas.
With one day left, fires this month are already up 12.3% from August 2021 and roughly 20% above the average for the month in the INPE data series since 1998.
The uptick comes ahead of an October presidential election with leading candidates sharply at odds over destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
The frontrunner, leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has vowed tougher protection of the Amazon and blasted right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro for letting deforestation of the biome hit a 15-year high.
Experts blame Bolsonaro for rolling back environmental protections in Brazil, opening the way for loggers and ranchers to illegally clear more of the Amazon since he took office in 2019.
Bolsonaro’s office and the Environment Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Preliminary data showed that deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon in the first seven months of this year totaled an area roughly seven times the size of New York City – the most for the period in at least six years.