A NASA satellite image shows several fires burning in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory
Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Brazil's Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate, data from international space agencies indicate.
The Brazilian National Institute for Space Research on Tuesday said its satellite data showed there have been 72,843 fires in Brazil this year -- with more than half in the Amazon region -- an 84 percent increase from the same period in 2018.
The agency said the amount of Amazon rainforest being destroyed by the fires equates to 1.5 soccer fields every minute of every day.
The European Union's satellite program, Copernicus, released a map Monday showing smoke spreading along nearly half the country into Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized for his environmental policies which include exploring the economic potential of the Amazon rainforest.
Weeks ago, Bolsonaro also fired the director of the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, saying satellite data showing that deforestation in the Amazon was up 88 percent was false.
On Wednesday, Bolsonaro said he believes the fires may have been caused by non-governmental organizations looking to spark criticism of his government.
"Crime exists and we need to make sure that this type of crime does not increase. We took money away from the NGOs," he said. "They are now feeling the pinch from that lack of funding. So, maybe the NGO types are conducting these criminal acts in order to generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government. This is the war we are facing."
The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest and produces about 20 percent of the oxygen in the earth's atmosphere.