Amazon had worst August fires in 12 years

01 setembro 2022

Number of fire outbreaks skyrocketed in the last four years; more than 40.000 just in 2022

By WWF-Brasil 

The Amazon had 33,116 fire outbreaks in August, the highest number for the month since 2010, according to the Queimadas Program of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Between the beginning of January and the end of August, the biome has already had more than 46,000 fire spots. In the accumulated result for the month, August 2022 surpasses even the number of 2019, when the “Fire Day” happened (28,060 fire outbreaks).
INPE's data indicate that fires - as well as the deforestation associated with them - have been out of control in the Amazon since 2019. That is just when it began the policy of dismantling of federal environmental protection systems by Jair Bolsonaro's administration.

In all four years of the current federal administration, the number of fires in the Amazon was 40,000 or more, between January and August. In the previous 10 years (2009-2018), the average number of fire outbreaks was around 28,000 in the same period.

"The lack of control of fires detected in the last four years is closely associated with an increase in deforestation and forest degradation observed in this period", says Mariana Napolitano, Head of Science at WWF-Brazil. "The Amazon is a humid tropical forest and, contrary to what happens in other biomes, fire is not part of its natural cycle. Therefore, fires do not arise naturally in the biome and their occurrence is always associated with human actions - especially deforestation and forest degradation."

The fires, in general, correspond to the last stage of deforestation: after cutting the trees, the criminals set fire to the felled forest to "clear the land".

But forest degradation also contributes heavily to the increase in fire. Degraded areas, although not completely devastated by clear-cutting, have fewer large trees. So they are more exposed, more susceptible to the effects of drought, and they accumulate a drier, more flammable biomass, highly vulnerable to fires.


As well as the fires, deforestation has also exploded in the last four years. Data for August are not yet available, but in the period between early January and late July, the devastation has been breaking successive records since 2019, and reached 5,400 km2 deforested in 2022.

According to the Deter-Inpe System, between 2016 - when the historical series begins - and 2018, the annual average of deforestation alerts in the Amazon reaches 2,600 km2, in the period between January and July. In the same period, the annual average was 5,000 km2 between 2019 and 2022.
The deforestation rates calculated by Inpe’s Prodes System also indicate an explosion in deforestation in the first three years of the current federal administration (2019-2021), when an  11,300 km2 average was devastated per year in the Amazon. In the previous 10 years (2009-1018), the average was 6,500 km2 per year.


“The Bolsonaro government has been promoting an anti-environmental policy,” says Raul Valle, director of Social and Environmental Justice at WWF-Brazil. "A number of actions by the government of Jair Bolsonaro have contributed to the escalation of fires in recent years - and also to the increase in deforestation and forest degradation in the Amazon. Throughout his administration, Bolsonaro repeated - in Brazil and abroad - that there are no fires in the Amazon at all, denying indisputable data. He weakened the mechanisms of command and control in the region and spread an atmosphere of allowance for crimes of destruction, supporting deforesters and illegal gold miners.”

In 2019, in the first year of the current administration, the high numbers of fires in the Amazon resulted in an international image crisis for the government. In August of that year, farmers joined to organize the burning, at the same time, of a high number of pastures and areas in different stages of deforestation - an episode that became known as "fire day". In response, the government raised baseless doubts on official data and fired INPE's director Ricardo Galvão.

Bolsonaro has also shrunk the budget and capacity for action of bodies such as IBAMA - which has reduced enforcement operations and has seen a sharp fall in the number of fines imposed on environmental violators.

About WWF-Brazil

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