Wildfires in the Amazon rainforest have hit a record number this year, with 72,843 fires detected so far by Brazil’s space research centre INPE.
The surge marks an 83% increase over the same period of 2018 and is the highest since records began in 2013, raising concerns over right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policy.
Satellite images spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the country since Thursday, INPE said.
Most of the blazes were located in the Amazon basin – home to the world’s largest tropical forest seen as vital to countering global warming.
Images show the northernmost state of Roraima covered in dark smoke. The Amazonas capital Manaus has been on environmental alert since Friday due to the fires.
Wildfires have become more frequent in Mato Grosso and Para, two states where Brazil’s agricultural frontier has pushed into the Amazon basin and spurred deforestation.
They are common in the dry season, but are also deliberately set by farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching.
The increase in wildfires has occurred since controversial president Mr Bolsonaro took office in January.
He vowed to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining, ignoring international concern over increased deforestation.
Mr Bolsonaro previously brushed off criticism about the spread of uncontrolled fires, saying it was the time of year of the “queimada” or burn, when farmers use fire to clear land.
“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.
However INPE said the large number of wildfires could not be attributed to the dry season or natural phenomena alone.
INPE researcher Alberto Setzer said: “There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average”.
He said that the dry season is often blamed for the Amazon wildfires, but that is not entirely accurate.
“The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” he added.
Mr Bolsonaro recently fired the director of INPE after he criticised agency statistics showing an increase in deforestation in Brazil, saying they were “made up numbers”.