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Fires in Pantanal Tropical Wetlands Surge to Record Numbers This Year

Published on 10th November 2019

10th November - The fires, most of which have been set by farmers clearing land, are raging across the wetlands at an unprecedented rate and scorching farmlands in the Pantanal’s south.


Fires are burning across the Pantanal at record numbers this year, Brazil’s space research center said last week.

The center, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks fires using satellite images, reported that it had registered 8,479 fire outbreaks so far this year in the world’s largest tropical wetlands, a 462% increase from the same period of 2018 when 1,507 fires were detected.

Since the beginning of the year, raging fires have destroyed more than 370 thousand acres of the Pantanal, an area nearly twice the size of New York. Currently, the inferno continues to rip across the south of the Pantanal at an unprecedented rate, burning trapped wildlife and farm animals alive and sending others bolting for safety.

The fires, most of which unintentionally spread after farmers lit vegetation to clear land, have crossed the borders of Brazil into the Pantanal wetlands in Paraguay and Bolivia.

The worst affected areas are Brazilian regions Aquidauana, Miranda and Corumba where specialist fire-fighting aircraft have been discharged to provide additional support to Prevfogo, the Brazilian state of Parana’s local fire brigade, working from the ground.

Professor Marcus Vinicius Morais de Oliveira, a conservationist and researcher at the State University of Mato Grosso du Sul, said the widespread fire in the Pantanal is atypical for this time of year, which usually has higher rainfall.

“The drought is much longer this year and the area is being exposed to very high temperatures,” said Professor Oliveria. “It’s a disaster for the Pantanal.” A combination of dry weather, high temperatures, and strong winds create a favorable environment for the flames and allows them to spread aggressively. Local farmer Marcus Ruiz said that this year’s drought is the worst the area has experienced in the last 56 years. Even swamps, usually too wet to go up in flames, are being destroyed by fires.

The sheer size of both the flames and the area affected makes it difficult for Prevfogo to bring the fire under control. Flames may appear to be extinguished only for hot smoke to rise from the ground and spark a new fire. Rescue efforts on the ground have identified the burnt remains of snakes, iguanas, and caimans, unable to escape the blazing flames. Vegetation such as coconut and palm trees have been burnt to cinders, destroying valuable food sources for birds such as the hyacinth macaw.

The Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetlands and an area of immense ecological importance. It mostly covers Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state yet it also spans over to Paraguay and Bolivia. It’s home to hundreds of species of birds and animals such as jaguars, giant anteaters, and the elusive maned wolf.

The wildfires in the Pantanal is the latest environmental disaster in Brazil, coming after the fires that surged through the Amazon rainforest and the mysterious oil spill that affected ten states in the north of the country.