28 August 2019

Why is Peru on fire?

Found the photo above today - a satellite image from August 22 - showing the locations of fires in South America (if the embed doesn't enlarge, the original will X2).

It's clear there are fires raging through the Amazon.  My impression from internet news reports was that they were largely attributable to the policies of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and refleced clearing of the forest for industrial-scale farming.

But... the image clearly shows extensive fires in Peru.  And in Bolivia.  And Paraguay.

It may be for similar reasons, but I can't see how Bolsonaro can be implicated by the fires in the other countries.  And if not there, perhaps not in Brazil?  Has it become standard practice for the people of South America to burn off their forests??  Are some of these fires oil drills degassing rather than forests?

I'll send the query to my cousin who is currently in Peru.  In the meantime I'd appreciate opinions from knowledgeable readers.

Addendum: A tip of the blogging hat to reader Colin for providing the link to the relevant NASA Visible Earth page:
Fire activity in the Amazon varies considerably from year-to-year and month-to-month, driven by changes in economic conditions and climate. August 2019 stands out because it has brought a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon, explained Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. While drought has played a large role in exacerbating fires in the past, the timing and location of fire detections early in the 2019 dry season are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought...

The map above shows active fire detections in Brazil as observed by Terra and Aqua MODIS between August 15-22, 2019. The locations of the fires, shown in orange, have been overlain on nighttime imagery acquired by VIIRS. In these data, cities and towns appear white; forested areas appear black; and tropical savannas and woodland (known in Brazil as Cerrado) appear gray
I was wondering about the black/gray demarcation and also why city lights did not overwhelm the fires (this is a composite image of two methodologies).  But I'm still puzzled by the extra-Brazilian distribution.


  1. I'll give a perspective I was in Honduras back in the late 80s for two weeks as part of a multiyear roadbuilding across the mountains by the U.S. Army. We were up about 4000 feet and you could see a couple of the higher peaks on either side of us having deliberate fires set. We were told by the Hondurans that this helped contain more massive wildfires but more importantly removed unwanted vegetation before the start of the next growing season. My belief is that this is a yearly occurrence and that's why the other countries in the vicinity of Brazil are also having fires. If you look at the newsreels (to date ourselves) the areas we are seeing burning had already been deforested hence all the high grasses/scrub trees we see in the footage.

  2. This link has lots of helpful info and links: https://visibleearth.nasa.gov//view.php?id=145498

    1. Excellent! Thank you, Colin. I'll plan to amend the post tomorrow.

  3. Forbes had a good general rundown of why everyone is overreacting to the fires:


    And just in case, here's an article that corroborates some of it, but contests some other points:


    1. I quite agree that the hyperbole has been ridiculous. I'm planning to write a separate post about how trees are overrated as carbon sinks and oxygen producers.

  4. Old reader from Brazil here.

    I can't say much about Peru. But I will talk a bit about Brazil. We are in fire season, which in amazon is associated with man-made forest clearance. That's why we have this big arc-shape in the bottom of amazon. The fire count peaked around 2005, which is associated with the expansion of soy farming frontier towards the north of the country. The fires of this year are above the average of the last couple of years, without taking into account the events in early 2000's.

    Bolsonaro's responsibility on the fires are due to the fact that he has been signalizing to the population that environment is not his priority, or even, is a obstacle for development. Some facts to support these are:
    1. He announced that there will be no environment ministry, that the agenda will be taken by the ministry of agro-industry. He came back on his decision, after complaint from meat and crop producers that this would take out the green label of brazilian products. He named a minister that was found guilty for irregular management of a protected area in the state of Sao Paulo
    2. Announce the pardon environmental fines
    3. Denied spacial data about the advance of deforestation from the National institute of spacial research (INPE). The director of INPE left the position.
    4. Announced the will to legalize fishing in a natural national marine park (Fernando de noronha)
    And many more. Police is now investigating what has been known as fire day (dia do fogo) where people in the state of Para coordinated a mass firing of amazon's lands. It is unclear what was the pourpose of it.
    Not sure of how much this internal policies and speechs of Bolsonaro affects the actions in the neighboring countries.
    Cheers and Keep up posting :)

  5. The fires are a distraction, I think. I'm also upset and confused about it all.

  6. When I get worried I think it's a particularly well crafted divisive thing.

  7. "As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years. (The Amazon spreads across Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and parts of other countries.)"


  8. I believe if you check the records, that South America is in its 3rd year of Drought. And droughts don't respect national borders, producing dry conditions across the entire region. Its effected the soybean and coffee crops (among others), which have had implications back on the US and global markets.

  9. As a bit more data.. look at this chart showing drought conditions in South America, and compare it to the fires above


  10. I have a sister in law in Sao Paulo, when we last visited her, a drought had all but drained the large river the city relies on. The whole city turned the water off at 8pm and didn't turn it on again until 8am, it was eye opening.

  11. Peruvian reader here. It is indeed a standard practice, all over the Amazon actually. And no, we're not on fire :-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...