Brazil’s space research centre INPE has recorded 72,843 fires in the Amazon this year alone, marking an 83 percent increase over the same period of 2018 and is the highest since records began in 2013. Most of the blazes were located in the Amazon basin - home to the world’s largest tropical forest seen as vital to countering global warming. The fires have been reported as particularly severe over the past three weeks, with smoke from the raging infernos now covering more than half of Brazil.
Meteorologist Eric Holthaus yesterday tweeted: "Smoke from the fires currently burning in the Amazon rainforest is covering about half of Brazil. We are in a climate emergency."
Smoke from the fires caused a blackout in the city of Sao Paulo on Monday.
The daytime blackout, which lasted for about an hour, came after strong winds brought in smoke from Amazonas and Rondonia, more than 1,700 miles (2,700km) away.
Images show the northernmost state of Roraima covered in dark smoke.
The Amazonas capital Manaus has been on environmental alert since Friday due to the fires.
This news comes weeks after President Jair Bolsonaro sacked the head of INPE amid rows over its deforestation data, and has raised concerns over the government’s environmental policy.
Conservationists have blamed Mr Bolsonaro, saying he has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land - but he brushed off the data from INPE.
He said it was the “season of the queimada”, when farmers use fire to clear land and accused the public of blaming him for deforestation and now the fires.
He said: “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame.”
INPE, however, said these fires are not normal for the dry season.
Researcher Alberto Setzer said: “There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average.
“The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”
Ricardo Mello, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Amazon Programme, said the fires were “a consequence of the increase in deforestation seen in recent figures”.
Mr Bolsonaro’s government is under increasing criticism for its environmental policy, which has seen a reversal of the work of former presidents to try reduce deforestation.
Under Bolsonaro, penalties for illegal deforestation have been slashed and confiscations of timber and convictions have fallen.
Last month, the president accused INPE’s director of lying about the scale of deforestation - reported at an 88 percent increase - and trying to undermine the government.
The director of the agency later announced he was being sacked amid the row.
INPE has previously insisted that its data is 95 percent accurate, and its reliability has been defended by several scientific institutions, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.