January 9, 2020 / 2:01 AM / 19 days ago

Fires in Amazon forest rose 30% in 2019

FILE PHOTO: Smoke billows from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly/File Photo

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The number of fires in the Amazon rainforest grew 30.5% in 2019 from the previous year, according to data released by space research agency INPE on Wednesday.

According to INPE, the number of fires detected in the Amazon region was 89,178 in 2019 compared with 68,345 fires in 2018. Although the number of fires rose, it was still below the historic average of 109,630 fires in the Amazon each year.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is considered key to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide it absorbs.

The urgent need to protect the Amazon has come under the spotlight as deforestation in Brazil, home to the biggest share of the Amazon, rose to its highest in over a decade in 2019 under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has been blamed by researchers and environmentalists for emboldening ranchers and loggers by calling for the Amazon to be developed and for weakening the environmental agency Ibama.

INPE’s fire monitoring program also identified rising number of fires last year in other Brazilian ecosystems such as Pantanal and Cerrado. Brazil and Bolivia struggled to curb massive forest fires in 2019.

Reporting by Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo; Editing by Michael Perry

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