Fires rage in Amazon Rainforest


It's not just Indonesia's forests and peatlands that are burning - the Amazon is suffering almost as badly, with over 18,000 fires last month in Brazil alone, write Jos Barlow & Erika Berenguer. The future is looking hot and fiery.

As world leaders meet in Paris to tackle carbon emissions, here in the Amazon we are watching forests burning unchecked, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, destroying sensitive ecosystems and making breathing difficult.

There are forests fires in the Amazon every year, but 2015 is exceptional. We've been investigating the issue in the rainforest around Santarém, a city on the south bank of the Amazon, 800km from the sea.

For the past five weeks we have woken up under a thick veil of smoke. For days we are barely able to see the sun. On many days last week visibility was less than 50 metres and the sun, once yellow, would rise red - if at all.

Even our clothes and our hair smell constantly of smoke. We have been living in the middle of a 24-hour barbecue in the middle of the world's largest tropical forest.

The El Niño phenomenon is contributing to this year's increased temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns, which means a more intense dry season across large swathes of the usually-humid tropics.

Widespread fires in south-east Asian peatland forests have released huge amounts of smoke and made the air so polluted that Indonesia set up evacuation ships for affected people. These fires are estimated to have emitted more carbon in just a few weeks than the entire German economy over a whole year.

Rainforests aren't used to fire

Although fires in the Amazon region have attracted much less attention than in Indonesia the situation is still alarming. In November alone, the Brazilian Amazon experienced 18,716 fires according to satellite data.

They are are mainly started by farmers to clear areas of fallow or to get rid of weeds in pastures. However, planned fires often escape the targeted area, invade surrounding forests and burn the vegetation.

These escaped fires may appear small and harmless but rainforests, unlike savannahs or temperate forests, have not co-evolved with periodic fires. This makes them particularly vulnerable. As a result, human-induced fires can kill up to 50% of the larger trees and most of the small-stemmed ones.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.

Burned forest image via Shutterstock.