Huge fire burns in Brazil's Pantanal area
A huge fire burns in several swamps and national parks in Brazil, giving off a cloud of black smoke so thick it hides the sun.
Some 1.5 million hectares (almost 5,800 square miles) have been burning in the Pantanal region since August, according to preliminary calculations by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, based on satellite images. The area is comparable to the area currently being affected by flames in California, and is much larger than the previous record, recorded in the 2005 fire season.
Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, whose satellites capture the magnitude of the flames, noted that the fires in Pantanal the first 12 days of September were almost three times what they covered in the same period last year. Between January and August, the number of fires more than tripled, reaching 10,000.
Fernando Tortato, who has lived and worked in the nearby Encontro Das Aguas reserve since 2008, says he has never seen the fire bigger than this year.
It is a huge area that has been burned and consumed by flames, and there are still two, three or four weeks without rain he said.
Firefighters, soldiers and volunteers have been trying to rescue jaguars and other animals that are threatened by the flames, exacerbated by the worst drought in 47 years, strong winds and temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
Although most of the fires in the Amazon region to the north are believed to be due to illegal logging, mining and agricultural operations, a spokesperson for the Mato Grosso state firefighters, Lt. Col. Sheila Sebalhos, He said one of the causes of this year's fires in the Pantanal is the practice of burning roots to generate smoke and forcing wild bees out of their hives, then extracting honey.
Thousands of plant and animal species live in the Pantanal, including 159 mammals, and jaguars abound, according to the environmental organization World Wildlife Fund. During the rainy season, rivers overflow and flood the land, making most of it accessible only by plane or boat. In the dry season, wildlife enthusiasts flock to see the elusive jaguars lounging on the riverbanks, as do macaws, alligators, and capybaras.
About 200 jaguars in the area have already been injured, killed or had to flee their territories due to the fires, according to Panthera, an international wild cat conservation organization.
Firefighters and the Mato Grosso environmental ministry have created a center for rescued animals.
We feel a little discouraged, but we try to hope to rescue as few animals as we can, said 26-year-old veterinarian Karen Ribeiro, who was tending to an injured bird on Friday.
That same day, the Brazilian Navy used a helicopter to rescue a burned jaguar cub and take him to a veterinary hospital.