Amazon wildfires: A look at what’s fact and what isn’t

Click to play video: 'What is causing the Amazon rainforest wildfires?'
What is causing the Amazon rainforest wildfires?
WATCH: What is causing the Amazon rainforest wildfires? – Aug 21, 2019

Parts of the Amazon rainforest are on fire — that’s a fact, and one that scientists have been raising awareness about.

READ MORE: Amazon rainforest fires: What caused them and why activists are blaming Brazil’s president

But there is also misinformation spreading on the internet on what exactly is happening in the Brazilian region.

Here’s a look at what is being reported online and what is really happening.

Facts on the fire

According to Brazil’s space research centre, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, more Amazon rainforest fires are burning right now than ever recorded before.

The INPE said that between January to August this year, wildfires have surged 83 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.

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The government agency has registered 72,843 fires, which is the highest number since records began in 2013. More than 9,500 have been spotted by satellites since last Thursday alone.

Earlier in August, NASA noted that some of the fires are so large that they can be seen from space.

This satellite image provided by NASA on Aug. 13, 2019 shows several fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon forest.

Many photos and videos circulating on the internet are also accurate — there are raging fires and thick clouds of black smoke over parts of the rainforest.

Reuters reported that from the sky, the fires ranged from small pockets to those bigger than a football field, with the smoke making it impossible to see behind the front line of flames to discern the full extent of the blaze.

Sometimes the smoke was so thick the forest itself appeared to have disappeared.

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Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State on Aug. 21.
Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State on Aug. 14. Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State on Aug. 17.

What’s not happening

However, not all the images shared online show what’s happening in the Amazon right now. Fact-checking website Snopes found that one viral tweet that spread news of the current wildfires actually shows photographs from years ago.

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The tweet, which was posted Aug. 20 has been retweeted more than 447,000 times.

The information in the tweet is not necessarily incorrect — the Amazon rainforest is one of the most important ecosystems in the world. The Amazon is regarded as vital in the fight against global warming due to its ability to absorb carbon from the air. It’s often referred to as the “lungs of the Earth,” as a sizeable portion of the world’s oxygen is produced there.

However, the photo on the right is from June 1989. While it’s unclear exactly when the photo on the left was taken, it was used by the science journal Nature in an article published in 2012.

READ MORE: Sao Paulo shrouded in darkness as Amazon rainforest continues to burn

According to NASA, wildfires are rare in the Amazon most of the year because of the moist climate. However, July and August are dry months, which means there is an increase in wildfires — the peak is in September and they typically stop burning in November.

This, of course, doesn’t take away from the concerning severity of current wildfires and the possibility things could get worse.

Wildfires prompt blame game

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has placed the blame for the record wildfires on non-governmental organizations — without providing any evidence.

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Bolsonaro suggested on Wednesday that NGOs started the fires to make him look bad.

“Maybe  — I am not affirming it — these (NGO people) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” Bolsonaro told reporters.

WATCH: Activists are blaming Brazil’s president for Amazon’s rainforest fires

Click to play video: 'Activists are blaming Brazil’s president for Amazon’s rainforest fires'
Activists are blaming Brazil’s president for Amazon’s rainforest fires

When asked if he had evidence, the president did not provide any.

“There is a war going on in the world against Brazil — an information war,” Bolsonaro said.

The president later walked back those statements, saying he was only talking of his suspicions. He also said the government would investigate the fires.

Meanwhile, NGOs and academics who study deforestation have placed the blame on the president.

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They say the administration’s pro-development policies, which call for a sharp increase in Amazon deforestation, are harming the rainforest. Environmentalists also say farmers set the forest alight to clear land for cattle grazing.

Experts have noted that Brazilians could be the first victims of excessive deforestation, as it could affect the regional climate, bringing higher temperatures and less rain.

WATCH: Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest exceeds 88% in June

Click to play video: 'Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest exceeds 88% in June'
Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest exceeds 88% in June

Several countries have also criticized Brazil’s actions in the Amazon.

Citing Brazil’s apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, Germany and Norway have decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazil’s forests.

French and German leaders have also threatened not to ratify a trade deal between the European Union and South American bloc Mercosur to pressure Brazil into complying with its environmental pledges within the Paris Climate Agreement.

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— With files from The Associated Press, Reuters

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