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Brazil Is Seeing a Record Number of Wildfires This Year

In the Amazon, Brazil has made huge gains in its battle against deforesters, but it is increasingly losing ground to another threat: climate change. Amid pervasive drought this year, the number of wildfires has hit a 20-year high, official figures show.

From January through June, Brazil recorded 13,489 wildfires in the Amazon, according to satellite data from the national space agency. That is 61 percent more fires than during the first half of last year. And the wildfire season has yet to reach its peak, which usually comes in August or September.

“We’re seeing fires this year that began in pastures or recently cleared rainforest and then spread into the surrounding rainforest areas that are burning hundreds of square kilometers,” said NASA researcher Shane Coffield, who studies wildfires in Brazil. “These are huge wildfires.”

The fires have been fueled by an ongoing drought, which scientists say is linked to climate change and has been exacerbated by El Niño. As warming intensifies, other regions are also seeing fires multiply. Government figures show that, in the first half of this year, the dry Cerrado region and the Pantanal wetlands both saw record numbers of wildfires.

Overall, forest loss in the Amazon is down 42 percent year on year, reflecting a crackdown by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on land clearing by farmers and ranchers.

Going forward, worsening fires could reverse the gains made under Lula. Writing in Nature Ecology and Evolution, a group of scientists recently warned that increasingly severe fires “threaten both the actual advances in forest protection made by Lula’s administration and pose a second threat — weakening the public’s perception of Lula’s commitment to protecting the region.”

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