Record-breaking fires in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands before official fire season begins

July 1, 2024

Pantanal wetlands see unprecedented fires

As reported by Gabriela Sá Pessoa and Eléonore Hughes for AP News, Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands are experiencing a record number of fires even before the official fire season begins.

The National Space Research Institute’s satellites detected over 2,500 fires in June, the highest ever recorded for that month since 1998.

This surpasses the 2020 “year of flames,” when wildfires severely impacted the region.

Environment Minister Marina Silva highlighted the severity of the situation, citing severe water scarcity in the entire Paraguay River basin.

Silva, alongside Planning and Budget Minister Simone Tebet, described the fires as devastating during their visit to Corumba, one of the hardest-hit cities.

Silva attributed the fires to human activity, climate change, and prolonged effects of El Nino and La Nina phenomena.

Government and local efforts to combat the fires

Brazil’s federal government has deployed 285 agents and 82 National Guard members to assist local fire brigades.

Following the 2020 fires, local authorities expanded fire committees to include various government branches and environmental nonprofits such as World Wildlife Fund and SOS Pantanal.

These committees focus on fire management, monitoring, and training local communities in fire prevention and early response.

Despite these efforts, controlling the current fires has been challenging.

Manuel Garcia da Silva, head of a fire brigade, explained the difficulties posed by the terrain and underground fires.

“Most of the fires in the Pantanal are underground. We can’t see them, but around 10 in the morning, they start emerging again,” he said.

Garcia da Silva’s brigade spends extensive hours fighting these fires daily.

Drought conditions exacerbate the situation

The current conditions in the Pantanal are more severe than in 2020, with expectations of extreme drought in August and September.

Vinicius Silgueiro from the Center of Life Institute noted that the deficit in rainfall since October has worsened the situation.

According to a June bulletin by the Geological Survey of Brazil, almost all rivers in the region showed below-average levels, raising concerns for the coming months.

Renata Libonati, a meteorology professor, emphasized the role of human activity in causing most fires.

Since January, over 688,000 hectares of the Pantanal have been destroyed by fires.

Traditional farmers often use fire to manage pastures, a practice prohibited during the dry season, but authorities had to implement the ban earlier this year due to dry conditions.

Climate trends and future predictions

Recent studies indicate that dry and semi-arid areas in Brazil have expanded over the past 30 years, with the Pantanal being the most affected biome since 1985.

Projections suggest that Brazil’s center-west region, where the Pantanal is located, will become hotter, while the southern region will experience more rainfall.

The Pantanal’s current fire season is a significant concern, with data indicating that July to September typically sees at least 20 times more fires than June.

Osvaldo Barassi Gajardo of the World Wildlife Fund stressed the importance of heightened prevention efforts and public authority actions to combat the fires and prevent further damage.

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