Amazon Fires Decreased in September, but Crisis Far From Over

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The number of fires in the Amazon in September decreased compared to the same period last year, according to the latest data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE). But the crisis is far from over: while the temporary reduction in the number of fires can be attributed to Brazil's firefighting response, deforestation continues to mount in preparation for more fires.

From September 1 to September 30, 2019, the Brazilian Amazon saw 19,925 fire outbreaks, compared to 24,803 in September 2018 – a 19.6% reduction. In August, there were 30,901 outbreaks, compared to 10,421 – up 196%. More importantly, the quantity of fires lit from January 1 to October 1 represent a 41% spike from the same period in 2018, which represents the second-highest number since 2013. (Data from INPE)

And though the government has increased attention to firefighting in recent weeks, it appears to be at the cost of other vital environmental enforcement: according to a document from the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA citing official monitoring data, in the first month of the military firefighting response, there was a 63.7% drop in seized timber and the policing of illegal deforestation as compared to the same period of the previous year.

What explains the reduction of fires in September?

  • After massive Brazilian and international outcry forced Bolsonaro to take action, Brazil's military undertook firefighting efforts in the region, and Bolsonaro set a moratorium on fires for two months.
  • It rained more than average during this period, particularly in Mato Grosso, the Brazilian state where most fires were set.

Furthermore, while the number of fires in the Amazon may have slowed, fires in the Cerrado and Pantanal biomes, two other vital landscapes, increased in September. This suggests that once lifted, Bolsonaro's temporary moratorium on fires – which excluded these biomes – will allow for more deforestation and burning. Illegal logging continues to encroach on protected areas, cutting down trees to later burn the land. Continuing to apply international pressure on the Brazilian government is still crucial. The Amazon deforestation crisis is not over.

Amazon Watch Program Director Christian Poirier issued the following statement:

"The fires in the Amazon might have slowed after Brazil's firefighting response, but this short-term response is not enough. According to official monitoring data, deforestation continues to advance, important biomes like the Cerrado are on fire, and enforcement of other environmental crimes has declined.

"We need a real commitment from Bolsonaro's government to protect Brazil's forests and their Indigenous and traditional communities, who are the true guardians of the Amazon. Bolsonaro has promised ‘zero tolerance' for explosive deforestation and subsequent widespread arson; however, his policies and rhetoric have actually encouraged such crimes."

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