May 25, 2024

By this time of the year, rain should be drenching large swaths of the Amazon rainforest. Instead, a punishing drought has kept the rains at bay, creating dry conditions for fires that have engulfed hundreds of square miles of the rainforest that do not usually burn.

The fires have turned the end of the dry season in the northern part of the giant rainforest into a crisis. Firefighters have struggled to contain enormous blazes that have sent choking smoke into cities across South America.

A record number of fires so far this year in the Amazon has also raised questions about what may be in store for the world’s biggest tropical rainforest when the dry season starts in June in the far larger southern part of the jungle.

Last month, Venezuela, northern Brazil, Guyana and Suriname, which encompass vast stretches of the northern Amazon, recorded the highest number of fires for any February, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research, which has been tracking fires in the rainforest for 25 years. Fires also burned across Colombia’s Andes highlands, as well as parts of that country’s Amazon territory.

The fires in the Amazon, which reaches across nine South American nations, are the result of an extreme drought fueled by climate change, experts said.

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