Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has clashed with environmentalists since taking office in January. But criticisms are climbing to new levels as Amazon wildfires reach an all-time high in Brazil following a significant increase in deforestation.

Between January and August of this year, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recorded almost 73,000 fires. This is nearly twice the number for the whole of 2018 — 39,759 — and marks an 83 percent increase over this same period last year. Since last Thursday alone, satellite images identified more than 9,500 new fires. Most of these are burning the globe’s biggest tropical forest, located in the Amazon basin.

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Bolsonaro has promised to promote mining and farming in the Amazon region, ignoring international worries about deforestation. While wildfires are common in the Amazon’s dry season, farmers sometimes deliberately start fires to illegally clear their lands for raising cattle. INPE said this large number of fires can’t be attributed to the dry season alone.

“There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” said INPE researcher Alberto Setzer, according to Al Jazeera.

satellite view from space of fires in the Amazon rainforest

Bolsonaro remains unconcerned about the rampant Amazon wildfires caused by queimada, the name for farmers clearing land by fire. “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw,” he said. “Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada.”

The president also posited another theory: environmentalists who hate him are starting fires to make him look bad. “They are now feeling the pinch from the lack of funding,” Bolsonaro said. “So, maybe the NGO types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government. This is the war we are facing.”

Meanwhile, the Amazon wildfires continue to burn at the equivalence of more than 1.5 soccer fields per minute.

Via CNN, Al Jazeera and Reuters

Images via Pixabay and NASA