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PORTO VELHO, Brazil (AP) – Under increasing international pressure to contain fires sweeping parts of the Amazon, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Friday he might send the military to battle the massive blazes.
“That’s the plan,” said Mr. Bolsonaro. He did not say when the armed forces would get involved but suggested that action could be imminent.
An Associated Press journalist who traveled to the Amazon region on Friday saw many already deforested areas that had been burned.
Charred trees and fallen branches were seen around Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia state, which borders Bolivia. In some instances, the burned fields were adjacent to intact livestock ranches and other farms, suggesting the fires had been managed as part of a land-clearing policy.
A large column of smoke billowed from one fire, and smoke rose from a couple of nearby wooded areas. Life appeared normal in Porto Velho. However, visibility from the windows of an arriving airplane was poor because of smog enveloping the region.
Neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields and, in many cases, were set to clear land for farming. About 2,900 square miles of land has been affected in Bolivia, according to Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta.
On Friday, a B747-400 SuperTanker arrived in Bolivia to help with the fire-fighting effort. The U.S.-based aircraft can carry nearly 20,000 gallons of retardant, a substance used to stop fires.
Some 140 square miles have burned in northern Paraguay, near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia, said Joaquin Roa, a Paraguayan state emergency official. He said the situation has stabilized.
Close to 20 percent of the Amazon has already been deforested, according to Thomas Lovejoy, a George Mason University environmental scientist.
“I worry that the current deforestation will push past the tipping point leading to massive loss of forest and biodiversity,” Dr. Lovejoy wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year. Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85 percent over the same period in 2018.
Just over half of those fires have occurred in the Amazon region. Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest.