View of the devastation caused by a forest fire in the northern area of Brasilia's National Park (PNB), in Brasilia on August 30, 2017.
The PNB extends through 42,000 hectares amid Brasilia's urban area, where no rain has fallen in 100 days and the relative air humidity reaches 10%.

 / AFP PHOTO / EVARISTO SA / EVARISTO SA        (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: AFP Contributor/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
View of the devastation caused by a forest fire in the northern area of Brasilia's National Park (PNB), in Brasilia on August 30, 2017. The PNB extends through 42,000 hectares amid Brasilia's urban area, where no rain has fallen in 100 days and the relative air humidity reaches 10%. / AFP PHOTO / EVARISTO SA / EVARISTO SA (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:35
Fires in Amazon rainforest rage at record rate
Protesters take cover behind homemade shields as tear gas is fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: STR/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters take cover behind homemade shields as tear gas is fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:16
Footage shows tear gas, flash bangs used on protesters in Myanmar
01 rivers migrants pkg 02282021
PHOTO: CNN
01 rivers migrants pkg 02282021
Now playing
04:41
CNN correspondent speaks to migrants making dangerous journey to US
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 01: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves court after being found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling on March 01, 2021 in Paris, France. Mr. Sarkozy is only the second French president in modern times to have been convicted, after the conviction of former President Jacques Chirac in 2011.  (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 01: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves court after being found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling on March 01, 2021 in Paris, France. Mr. Sarkozy is only the second French president in modern times to have been convicted, after the conviction of former President Jacques Chirac in 2011. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:23
'An earthquake in French politics': CNN reporter on Sarkozy sentence
PHOTO: Isaac Abrack
Now playing
03:00
Hear from schoolgirl who escaped abduction in Nigeria
UK police appealed for help Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, to find three teenage girls who are missing from their homes in London and are believed to be making their way to Syria.

The girls, two of them 15 and one 16, have not been seen since Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, when, police say, they took a flight to Istanbul. One has been named as Shamima Begum, 15, who may be traveling under the name of 17-year-old Aklima Begum, and a second as Kadiza Sultana, 16. The third girl is identified as Amira Abase, 15.
PHOTO: Metropolitan Police
UK police appealed for help Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, to find three teenage girls who are missing from their homes in London and are believed to be making their way to Syria. The girls, two of them 15 and one 16, have not been seen since Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, when, police say, they took a flight to Istanbul. One has been named as Shamima Begum, 15, who may be traveling under the name of 17-year-old Aklima Begum, and a second as Kadiza Sultana, 16. The third girl is identified as Amira Abase, 15.
Now playing
00:39
Shamima Begum loses legal bid to return home to appeal citizenship revocation
PHOTO: Obtained by CNN
Now playing
08:29
How a religious festival turned into a massacre
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 2018.
PHOTO: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 2018.
Now playing
02:10
US intel report: Saudi Crown Prince responsible for approving Khashoggi operation
A Fijian rugby team serenaded workers in the Sydney hotel where they are quarantining.
PHOTO: Costa Argyrous
A Fijian rugby team serenaded workers in the Sydney hotel where they are quarantining.
Now playing
00:45
See Fijian rugby team serenade quarantine staff in Australia
Soldiers stand guard outside the CRS Turi prison in Cuenca, Ecuador on February 24, 2021. - At least 79 inmates died in simultaneous riots blamed on gang warfare at four prisons in Ecuador, officials said Wednesday. (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO / AFP) (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: FERNANDO MACHADO/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Soldiers stand guard outside the CRS Turi prison in Cuenca, Ecuador on February 24, 2021. - At least 79 inmates died in simultaneous riots blamed on gang warfare at four prisons in Ecuador, officials said Wednesday. (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO / AFP) (Photo by FERNANDO MACHADO/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:54
Ecuador prison riots leave dozens dead in gang 'extermination'
Russian diplomats working in the Pyongyang embassy had to use a handcar as they returned home from North Korea with their family members.
In a video released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday (February 25) diplomats and their family members are seen pushing a handcar and cheering as they cross the bridge which serves as a demarcation line between the two countries.
PHOTO: Russia MOFA
Russian diplomats working in the Pyongyang embassy had to use a handcar as they returned home from North Korea with their family members. In a video released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday (February 25) diplomats and their family members are seen pushing a handcar and cheering as they cross the bridge which serves as a demarcation line between the two countries.
Now playing
02:38
Video shows Russian diplomats leaving North Korea on handcar
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC is seen from the air January 24, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / Daniel SLIM        (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Daniel Slim/Getty Images
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC is seen from the air January 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel SLIM (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
05:24
US carries out airstrikes on Iran-backed militia groups
bhopal india vaccine covid trial sud pkg vpx_00032119.png
bhopal india vaccine covid trial sud pkg vpx_00032119.png
Now playing
03:42
These vaccine trial participants in an Indian city said they didn't know they were being tested on
CATANIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 18, 2021 - Mount Etna erupts in Sicily sending plumes of ash and spewing lava into air - PHOTOGRAPH BY Marco Restivo / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Marco Restivo/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Barcroft Media/Barcroft Media/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
CATANIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 18, 2021 - Mount Etna erupts in Sicily sending plumes of ash and spewing lava into air - PHOTOGRAPH BY Marco Restivo / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Marco Restivo/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Now playing
01:04
See mesmerizing footage of Mount Etna spewing lava
Vials of vaccine are packed at the Generium Pharmaceutical plant, which is gearing up production of Sputnik V.
PHOTO: CNN
Vials of vaccine are packed at the Generium Pharmaceutical plant, which is gearing up production of Sputnik V.
Now playing
03:21
Exclusive: Inside Russia's new Covid-19 vaccine factory
screengrab codogno lockdown one year on
PHOTO: CNN
screengrab codogno lockdown one year on
Now playing
02:20
Residents in Italian town reflect on life one year under pandemic
(CNN) —  

The Amazon is burning – and humans are likely to blame.

Environmental organizations and researchers say the wildfires blazing in the Brazilian rainforest were set by cattle ranchers and loggers who want to clear and utilize the land, emboldened by the country’s pro-business president.

“The vast majority of these fires are human-lit,” said Christian Poirier, the program director of non-profit organization Amazon Watch. He added that even during dry seasons, the Amazon – a humid rainforest – doesn’t catch on fire easily, unlike the dry bushland in California or Australia.

Farmers and ranchers have long used fire to clear land, said Poirier, and are likely behind the unusually large number fires burning in the Amazon today.

A satellite image from NASA shows the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil in August 2019.
PHOTO: Obtained by Maxar / NASA
A satellite image from NASA shows the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil in August 2019.

The country’s space research center (INPE) said this week that the number of fires in Brazil are 80% higher than last year. More than half are in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology.

And 99% percent of the fires result from human actions “either on purpose or by accident,” Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, said. The burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for a mechanized and modern agribusiness project, Setzer told CNN by email.

The Amazon forest produces about 20% of the world’s oxygen, and is often called “the planet’s lungs.” According to the World Wildlife Fund, if it is irrevocably damaged, it could start emitting carbon instead – the major driver of climate change.

The environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, tweeted on Wednesday that the fires were caused by dry weather, wind, and heat. But CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said the fires are “definitely human-induced,” and can’t be attributed to natural causes like lightning strikes.

This year’s fires fit into an established seasonal agricultural pattern, Brink said. “It’s the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry. [Farmers] wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that’s what we’re suspecting is going on down there.”

The peak of the dry season is still to come in September, she added.

Compared to previous years, the destruction this year is “unprecedented,” Poirier said.

In this Aug. 20, 2019 drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil.
PHOTO: Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Gross/AP
In this Aug. 20, 2019 drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil.

It’s also very difficult to halt human-induced blazes, Lincoln Muniz Alves, a researcher at INPE’s Earth System Science Centre, told CNN.

“Because the use of fire is a traditional part of tropical agriculture to clean agricultural land, grazing land, it is very difficult to stop it,” Alves said in an email.

Environmentalists are blaming Bolsonaro

Organizations, activists, and social media users worldwide have reacted to the news with alarm. #PrayForTheAmazon and other variations of the hashtag are trending globally on Twitter, with hundreds of thousands of tweets. As images and news of the fire spread, many are demanding accountability from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

When Bolsonaro was running for president, he made campaign promises to restore the economy by exploring the Amazon’s economic potential. Now, environmental organizations say he has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.

In this Aug. 20, 2019 drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil.
PHOTO: Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Gross/AP
In this Aug. 20, 2019 drone photo released by the Corpo de Bombeiros de Mato Grosso, brush fires burn in Guaranta do Norte municipality, Mato Grosso state, Brazil.

In a statement, Amazon Watch pointed to widespread local media reports that just last week, farmers had organized a coordinated “fire day” to burn land for agriculture, inspired by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric.

Fires are “just the most visible symptom” of Bolsonaro’s policies, and “reflect the irresponsibility of the president,” said Observatorio do Clima (Climate Observatory) in a statement on Wednesday.

The pro-business Bolsonaro has hamstrung Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency with budget cuts amounting to $23 million – official data sent to CNN by Observatorio do Clima shows the enforcement agency’s operations have gone down since Bolsonaro was sworn in.

And just weeks ago, the director of INPE was fired after a spat with the president. The director had defended satellite data that showed deforestation was 88% higher in June than a year earlier, which Bolsonaro characterized as “lies.”

Bolsonaro, who has previously said he is not “Captain Chainsaw” in reference to Amazon deforestation, has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires. On Wednesday, he speculated that the Amazon fires could have been caused by nonprofit organizations who are suffering from lack of funding, to “generate negative attention against me and against the Brazilian government.”

Poirier warns that shrugging off the fires could embolden farmers to burn more and “land grabbers” to illegally occupy, parcel out, and resell plots of land to ranchers. There have previously been attempts to rein in these rainforest “mafia” – but these attempted crackdowns are rare and often met with strong public opposition.

All the while, the Amazon veers toward potential disaster.

“The Amazon is incredibly important for our future, for our ability to stave off the worst of climate change,” said Poirier. “This isn’t hyperbole. We’re looking at untold destruction — not just of the Amazon but for our entire planet.”