Brazil Plans to Mobilize the Military to Fight Fires in the Amazon – The New York Times

Brazil Plans to Mobilize the Military to Fight Fires in the Amazon – The New York Times

RIO DE JANEIRO — Facing global scorn over environmental policies that have contributed to a rash of fires in the Amazon, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil said Friday that he was planning to send the military to contain the blazes.

After being largely dismissive about the fires earlier in the week, and claiming without evidence that they were probably set by environmental groups in an effort to undermine him, Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration appeared rattled on Friday.

“Whatever is within our power we will do,” Mr. Bolsonaro told reporters on Friday after a late-night emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday. “The problem is resources.”

[As fires have spread, so have misleading photos.]

Mr. Bolsonaro did not indicate what resources the military would bring to bear, but he is scheduled to give a televised address Friday evening to describe the government’s response plan.

Global outrage over the fires has spurred calls to boycott Brazilian products and led European leaders to threaten to walk away from a trade agreement that the European Union struck with Brazil and a handful of neighboring countries in June.

Forest fires happen every year in Brazil this time of year, when temperatures and humidity are lower. But the number of fires identified by satellite images in the Amazon so far this month is the highest since 2010, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research agency, which tracks deforestation and forest fires using satellite images.

The number of fires identified by the agency in the Amazon region so far this year, 40,341, is roughly 35 percent higher than the average for the first eight months of each year since 2010.

Image
CreditMato Grosso Firefighters

The decade before that included several years in which the number of fires identified during the first eight months was far higher. For instance, in 2005, there were more than 94,700 fires recorded. The rate of deforestation during that era prompted Brazil to adopt an ambitious set of policies to preserve the Amazon and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Many of those protections have eroded on Mr. Bolsonaro’s watch.

Brazilian officials sought to diminish the severity of the crisis and pushed back on the dire characterization of some world leaders, most notably President Emmanuel Macron of France, who wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “Our house is burning. Literally.”

Brazil’s minister of agriculture, Tereza Cristina Corrêa da Costa Dias, told reporters on Friday that many observers were conflating slash-and-burn fires regularly used in farmland with out-of-control forest fires.

Foreign governments that threaten to punish Brazil on trade or exports, she said, “first need to know what is happening in Brazil before taking any measure.”

Ms. Corrêa called on foreign governments to “lower the temperature,” adding that “Brazil understands the importance of the Amazon.”

Some local officials expressed greater alarm, though. In the northern state of Acre, the governor declared a state of emergency and ordered the evacuation of areas that could become engulfed by fires.

“We have alarming data on air quality, so health officials have increased the number of doctors available to treat our people,” Israel Milani, the state’s top environmental official, said in an interview.

In the state of Rondônia, firefighters said they were in triage mode.

“It’s impossible to be everywhere at the same time,” said Coronel Demargli Farias, the state’s chief of firefighters. “Even if we had 50,000 men.”


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