SAO PAULO, Sept 26 (Reuters) – Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest surged in September, already making it the worst month in more than a decade, government data showed on Monday, after a jump in deforestation during an election year.
National space research agency INPE reported 36,850 fire alerts in the region so far this month, a 120% rise over the full month last year and the worst on record for any month since September 2010, when INPE issued 43,933 alerts.
With that, the total fire alerts so far this year climbed to 82,872, surpassing the 75,090 recorded in all of 2021.
Fires in the Amazon tend to peak in August and September, considered the burning season in the region, when rains subside to let ranchers and farmers often set fire to deforested areas.
This month, they have already surpassed the average of 32,110 fires for September, according to INPE satellite data dating back to 1998.
Destruction of Brazil’s rainforest often picks up in election years, when law enforcement typically ebbs and loggers race ahead before conservation policy can possibly shift.
“Fires are not a natural phenomenon in the Amazon rainforest. These burnings are related to human activities, often illegal, and degradation levels that make it more susceptible to fires,” said Mariana Napolitano, WWF-Brasil’s science manager.
Brazilians will vote on Oct. 2 whether to give a second term to President Jair Bolsonaro. He has rolled back environmental protections and deforestation in the Amazon has surged to a 15-year high.
“Brazil was once a world reference in monitoring national forests, but unfortunately the responsible agencies have been dismantled by the government,” former INPE director Ricardo Galvao, now running for Congress, said on Twitter.
Bolsonaro trails in opinion polls to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has vowed to bolster law enforcement in the Amazon to curb deforestation if elected.
Bolsonaro’s office forwarded Reuters’ request for comment to the Justice and Public Security Ministry, which said that looking across the five biomes – or biogeographical zones – across which it operates, the total number of fires so far this year is lower than in 2021.
The Amazon is just one of Brazil’s seven biomes, alongside the coastal Atlantic Forest, the dry north-eastern Caatinga region and the flat Pampa plains in the south.
The ministry added that it has been conducting a police operation since last year to fight illegal deforestation, forest fires and to protect indigenous lands.
In August, fires had already been the highest for the month since 2010.
Data also showed that 1,661 square kilometers (641 square miles) were cleared in the Amazon last month, an 81% increase from the same period in 2021.
In a speech at the United Nations last week, Bolsonaro praised Brazil’s renewable energy efforts and said most of the Amazon remains untouched, criticizing the media for its reports on deforestation.