Parts of the Amazon rainforest are on fire — and smoke can be spotted from space

By Danielle Garrand

/ CBS News

Deforestation rising in the Amazon

On Monday afternoon, the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, went dark — but it wasn't some strange cosmic event. Powerful winds carried the smoke from forest fires burning nearly 1,700 miles away, reported the BBC. Almost 73,000 fires have been detected by Brazil's space research center INPE, according to Reuters. It's a record number this year, the agency said.

The smoke has traveled from the fires blazing in the Brazilian states of Rondônia and Amazonas and blackened the sky above the city for about an hour, the BBC added.

"It was as if the day had turned into night," resident Gianvitor Dias told the BBC. "Everyone here commented, because even on rainy days it doesn't usually get that dark. It was very impressive."

A tract of Amazon jungle is seen burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Tue., Aug. 20, 2019. Reuters

And it wasn't just the city's residents who saw the smoke. NASA captured images of forest fire plumes from space last week.

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The agency posted satellite photos of multiple fires tearing through the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondônia, Pará and Mato Grosso dated August 11 and 13 of this year. Smoke appeared to blanket the states in the startling images.

The agency stated fires are rare in the Amazon region for much of the year, as its wet weather keeps blazes at bay; fires do typically increase in July and August with the onset of the dry season. NASA explained "activity" peaks by early September and stops by mid-November.

brazilfires-amo-2019223.jpg
A satellite image from August 11, 2019, shows plumes of smoke above Brazilian states. NASA

NASA said the satellite observations revealed the "total fire activity in the Amazon basin" was slightly below average, compared to the past 15 years.

The state of Amazonas declared a national emergency earlier this month due to the fires. It is the fourth most affected area in Brazil this summer, reports Euronews.

The fires blaze as the concern for the future of the Amazon is high. Since taking office in January, Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of harming the Amazon rainforest and indigenous peoples in order to benefit loggers, miners and farmers who helped get him elected.

Bolsonaro, whose anti-environment rhetoric has included a pledge to end "Shiite ecologist activism," has questioned the latest official figures showing deforestation increased 88% in June compared with the same period last year. He uses the word "Shiite" as a synonym for radicalism rather than denoting a branch of Islam.

First published on August 20, 2019 / 11:07 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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