The Amazon is being burned. Here’s what you need to know.

A cloud of smoke coming from forest fires covers the forest in Lábrea, Amazonas state. In August 2016, Greenpeace flew over the Amazon to search for and register forest fires spots. 16 Aug, 2016  © Rogério Assis / Greenpeace

Click to zoom in. Map of hotspots in the Amazon between 2015-2016

From July to November, it is fire season in the Amazon rainforest. But while fires can be a normal part of the life cycle in forests, most of the flames in the Amazon are far from natural – and damaging.

Each year, people burn rainforest to clear the land for farming and pasture, as well as illegal logging. What’s worse, these practices make the forest even more vulnerable to future blazes and contribute to climate change.

Here are five alarming facts you should know about fires in the Amazon rainforest: 


1. In the first half of this year, 27,814 fires were detected in the Amazon. That’s the largest number ever recorded for the period and 81 percent above the historical average. Most of these fires were started by people.

2. Each year the Amazon fire season gets longer. Between 1979 to 2013, the annual fire season increased by 18.7 percent.

Burning Rainforest in the Amazon: Deforestation caused by fires. 25 Aug, 2008  © Greenpeace / Rodrigo Baléia

3. Deforestation in the Amazon is responsible for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil. Between 40-50 percent of the carbon gas released from Amazon fires immediately enters the atmosphere, having a direct impact on global warming.

Burning pasture in deforested area in the Amazon. 25 Aug, 2008 © Greenpeace / Rodrigo Baléia

4. The area of the forest that is destroyed every year in the Amazon is 6,000 km2 – four times the size of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Greenpeace discovers an illegal logging operation with at least 200km of roads serving the operation. Greenpeace activists paint the loggers barge with the message 'CRIME' then uses it to blockade access to the sort yard. 21 Nov, 2003 © Greenpeace / Daniel Beltrá

5. In 2015, the Brazilian government committed to end illegal deforestation only by 2030, meaning that it will allow deforestation crimes such as starting fires for 14 more years.

Click to zoom in. A team from Greenpeace Brazil flew over the states of Amazonas, Acre, Rondônia, Mato Grosso and Pará.

 Fires in the Amazon are part of a vicious cycle that we need to stop. As the climate warms, the forest gets drier. And as it gets drier, it becomes more susceptible to fires.

The Amazon rainforest should not be allowed to be set ablaze. It is time for the Brazilian government to commit to Zero Deforestation. And it’s up to all of us around the world to help the save the Amazon from the many threats it faces. 

Cristiane Mazzetti is a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil.