June fires in the Brazilian Amazon highest for the month in the last 13 years

Posted on 02 July 2020

The figures foreshadow a record fire season for the Amazon.
The number of fires recorded in the Brazilian Amazon last month outpaced any other June in the last decade. 

During the month of June, 2,248 fires were detected in the Amazon biome, the highest rate since 2007, when there were 3,517. The figures are 18.5% higher than in June 2019, when 1,880 outbreaks were registered by INPE (National Institute for Space Research) and 36% above the average of the previous 10 years. 

More than half of the fires in June, 58%, occurred in the Mato Grosso state.  

“The fires numbers for June are worthy of attention, since the driest season is only just beginning,” says Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brazil. "In the context of the high rates of deforestation, disrespect for indigenous rights and the public health calamity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, this trend is extremely concerning." 

“We cannot allow the 2019 situation to repeat itself. The government can and must take immediate measures, such as releasing the use of fire only by traditional populations and forbidding the practice of burning for other uses,” says Voivodic, noting that the hiring of brigade members for PrevFogo (National System for the Prevention and Fighting of Forest Fires) is still in the beginning stages and the time for preventive work is already over. 

Between 1 January and 18 June 18, there were deforestation alerts for 2,645 km2 in the Legal Amazon, the highest number recorded for the period since 2015. Clear cutting in the Amazonian forest continues to rise, with 610 km2 of area under deforestation alerts in the first 18 days of June alone.

Deforestation alerts for this year thus far exceed the 10,129 km2 measured last year, the highest rate since 2008 and more than double the rate measured in 2012.

From August 2019 to May 2020, based on data from INPE, deforestation was 6,504 km2, 78% more compared to the previous period (August 2018 to May 2019), when 3,654 km2 was deforested. This 10-month period excludes the months of June and July, when deforestation is historically highest.

“The states with the highest accumulated deforestation between June 1st and June 18 (Pará, Mato Grosso, Amazonas and Rondônia) were also those in which the number of fires in the first half of 2020 exceeded 2019”, says Mariana Napolitano, manager of WWF-Brazil.

Crossed signals
The government's authorization to employ the Armed Forces in the operation of the Law and Order Guarantee (GLO) with the aim of inhibiting deforestation and fires in the Amazon started in May this year and was extended until the end of July, but it has not yet had the expected effect.

The performance of the Armed Forces in the Amazon has been classified by some Ibama (Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) environmental inspectors as "clumsy, inexperienced and even malicious."

There is also a government delay in hiring fire brigades to combat fires, which may further worsen the 2020 scenario. In addition to putting out fires, brigades have a role in preventing flames with actions taken before the drought period - and for that Ibama usually starts hiring teams from April. In 2020, however, the contract notice for the Ibama’s PrevFogo brigades only came out on 16 June, and the next day, a new ordinance annulled the process, invalidated by an error in the process. The announcement that 843 professionals will be hired for the PrevFogo teams was only published on 23 June.

Public health
The fires worsen air quality, and in turn the health of populations living in the Amazon, who are already impacted by COVID-19. According to a study by Fiocruz of Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, one of the consequences is the increase in the number of children hospitalized - the number doubled between May and June 2019, with an additional 2,500 more hospitalizations per month in 100 municipalities in the Legal Amazon. In addition, pollutants can travel vast distances and affect cities that are far from where the fire originated.

Amazonian cities have already faced the first peak of the pandemic. The North region has the highest mortality rates (48.6) and contamination (1234.7) of the new coronavirus per 100 thousand inhabitants in the country.

What WWF-Brazil has been doing in the Amazon
WWF provides both immediate support for fighting fires and continuously against deforestation. WWF-Brazil's main objective is to support local forest guardians so that they have the conditions and training to monitor threats, such as deforestation and invasions of territories that have led to an increase in fires.

Since August 2019, WWF-Brazil has been reinforcing its actions to combat fires and strengthen territorial surveillance in the Amazon. Our projects have already reached 55.8 million hectares or 13.8% of the Brazilian Amazon - an area larger than the sum of the territories of Spain and Switzerland. 26 civil society organizations and 9 government agencies are benefiting from the projects, which includes 77 indigenous lands and Conservation Units and more than 117,000 people. In addition, more than 5,300 pieces of equipment were donated and 45 training events, workshops and assemblies have been held with over 2,800 participants.

In the specific context of Covid-19, more than 30,000 people - indigenous and agroextrativist – have received food, hygiene products, and equipment in the Amazon and Cerrado.
Aerial shot of Acre State showing forest fire. Amazonia, Brazil
© Mark Edwards / WWF
Fires in Brazilian Amazon in the month of June.