PORTO VELHO, Brazil (Reuters) – Residents and firefighters in northwestern Brazil are battling fires that are raging in the Amazon, destroying farmland and threatening their homes.
The blazes, that occur every year in the dry season, sent clouds of smokes billowing into the sky that could be seen and smelt from the capital of Rondonia state 24 miles (38 km) away.
Experts say the fires that threaten the world’s largest rainforest are rarely a natural phenomenon and are mostly set deliberately by speculators to clear land for pasture.
“Every year I suffer from this. Nobody knows who does this. They come and burn everything and run away,” said bricklayer Rosalino de Oliveira as he watched a firefighter hose flames that came dangerously close to his clap-board home.
“We are poor. I can barely feed my family on my salary. The fire comes to destroy everything in a matter of seconds,” he said, shielding his face from the suffocating smoke.
His sister Miraceli, in tears, said she feared losing the few possessions they had.
Last week, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro denied there were any fires in the Amazon, calling it a “lie” and blaming the media for spreading it.
According to government data, the first 15 days of August have seen about a 17% decrease in the number of fires as this time last year, when a sharp increase in blazes across the Amazon attracted international condemnation amid alarm over the deforestation of a region crucial to the fight against global warming.
Deforestation rose 34.5% in the 12 months through July, compared to a year earlier.
Bolsonaro has dispatched the military to fight fires and deforestation since May, but environmental experts question whether these deployments are working.
(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto and Ueslei Marcelino; additional reporting by Jake Spring, Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)