Flames ravage Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, off the region’s main highway and threatening endangered species amid near record fires.
Brazil’s national space research agency Inpe recorded 3,121 fires in the first 15 days of August, nearly five times more than the same period a year ago. At the current rate, the fires could approach the all-time record for any month since the records began in 1998.
Firefighters in the area worked to extinguish the scorching earth which was blackened as clouds of smoke rose hundreds of feet into the air.
Speaking on a visit to Mato Grosso state to see firefighting efforts in the Pantanal, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the challenges were great.
“The atmosphere is very hot, very dry, with strong winds and high temperatures,” Salles said.
“We have seen hundreds of fires throughout the day. Places where planes and firefighters have fought the fires directly without stopping, but the fires still cause serious damage to fauna, flora and the Pantanal region, ”he added.
About 8,500 square kilometers, or nearly 6% of the Pantanal, burned from January to July, according to government data.
The Pantanal is 10 times the size of the Everglades wetlands in the US state of Florida. The region is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet with more than 4,700 plant and animal species, including endangered species like the jaguar, according to the WWF advocacy group.
Much of the larger sanctuary for Blue Hyacinth Macaw parrots caught fire this year, Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported.
The region has suffered from below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures over the past 30 days, according to data provider Refinitiv.
“It is extremely difficult to fight, control and fight again a fire with the dimensions that we have seen here in the Pantanal,” said Paulo Barroso, president of the local firefighting committee.
The fires in the Pantanal come amid growing concerns over fires in the Amazon, its much larger neighbor to the north. Fires increased in the first days of August in the Amazon, but decreased by 17% from August 1 to August 15, compared to the same period a year ago.