Wildfires are burning through the Amazon rainforests at a record rate. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) says there have been a total of 72,843 fires in the country this year, with more than half of them in the Amazon region. That is an increase of 83% over the same period in 2018. In just the past week alone, there have been an additional 9,500 new fires reported.
The smoke is spread out over a 1.2 million square mile area that encompasses nearly half of the country and is even visible from space. Strong winds pushed thick smoke over 1,700 miles, where it blanketed the city of Sao Paulo, plunging it into darkness on Monday (August 19) afternoon.
While fires are common during this time of year, officials say the unprecedented uptick in wildfires is not due to the weather conditions in the region.
"There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average," INPE researcher Alberto Setzer told Reuters. "The dry season creates the favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident."