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Environmentalists: Amazon fires in Brazil human-caused

By Nicholas Sakelaris
An aerial view of a charred Amazon rain forest in Brazil is seen Tuesday. Officials have said more than 70,000 fires have burned there so far this year. Photo by Rogerio/EPA-EFE 
An aerial view of a charred Amazon rain forest in Brazil is seen Tuesday. Officials have said more than 70,000 fires have burned there so far this year. Photo by Rogerio/EPA-EFE 

Aug. 23 (UPI) -- A stark increase this summer in wildfires charring the Amazon rain forests of Brazil can be blamed on humans, environmentalists say.

More than 72,000 fires have burned across Brazil so far this year -- an increase of 84 percent over last year. Smoke from the fires is visible from space.

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Nonprofit watchdog Amazon Watch said Brazilian farmers have been encouraged by their government to set fires to create pastures -- and such authority is allowing them to commit arson with "wanton impunity."

"The unprecedented fires ravaging the Amazon are an international tragedy and a dangerous contribution to climate chaos," program director Christian Porter said in a statement. "The devastation is directly related to President [Jair] Bolsonaro's anti-environmental rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil's economic growth."

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Amazon Watch said farmers coordinated a "fire day," on which they set blazes across the forests to show Bolsonaro they "want to work." Bolsonaro, however, said the fires are being staged by political enemies.

"The fire was started, it seemed, in strategic locations," Bolsonaro said this week. "There are images of the entire Amazon. How can that be? Everything indicates that people went there to film and then to set the fires. That is my feeling."

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The Amazon rain forest is often called the "lungs of the planet," as it generates more than 20 percent of the Earth's oxygen.

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Alberto Setzer, a scientist at Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, told CNN nearly 100 percent of the fires have resulted from human activity -- disputing Brazilian environmental minister Ricardo Salles, who tweeted Wednesday the fires were caused by dry weather, wind and heat.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is "deeply concerned" by wildfires in the Amazon and vowed to push for a renewed focus on reversing climate change at the G7 summit.

Ireland has threatened to bock a free trade deal with the European Union and a South America trade group unless Bolsonaro does something to stop the fires.

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Irish Prime Minister Leo Vardakar said: "There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU Mercosur free trade agreement if Brazil does not honor its environmental commitments."

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