Last update: October 17th, 2019 at 5:00 am
Fires speckled the landscape of central Brazil in mid -June 2016 – a sign that the rainy season has ended and that farmers and agriculturists are working the land.
Most of the agricultural burning in this region is conducted by subsistence farmers and ranchers, who use fire to clear the land for crops and to renew grasslands by removing dead grasses and overgrowth. The fires are not always on land already in agricultural use, but at times are used to clear forestland for new fields.
Although the use of fire for agricultural purposes is a traditional and widespread practice, it carries significant consequences, including ecological impacts of deforestation as well as public health impacts from increased particulates in the air.
The government of Brazil has attempted to significantly reduce burning and deforestation. The state of Mato Grosso, for example, prohibits unauthorized fire from June 15 to September 15, which covers most of the dry season. Any burning in rural areas must be pre-approved by the government during this time, while burning in urban areas is generally against the law at any time. Even authorized fires, however, can slip control and become damaging wildfires.
According to a news piece published online by the Soybean and Corn Advisor in May 2016, state and local officials in central Brazil are especially concerned about fires this year due to the hotter than normal and drier than normal weather experienced during the growing season. They report “many regions in central Brazil experienced hot and dry conditions in November and December and then again in March and April. Officials are concerned that there is an inordinate amount of dry vegetation that could be subject to fire.”
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color image of central Brazil on June 15, 2016. Red hotspots mark areas where the thermal sensors on the instrument detected high temperatures. At higher resolutions, smoke can be seen hanging over parts of the region and smoke plumes rise from several hot-spots, confirming they represent actively burning fire. Most of the hotspots are located at forest edge or in or near agricultural fields.