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VERIFY: Facts vs. Fiction on fires in the Amazon

A lot of misinformation has been surfacing online as more attention is drawn toward the wildfires burning in the Amazon region.

As fires continue to burn across parts of the Amazon, it’s important to separate the misleading claims online from the facts.

Without a doubt, the fires are a serious problem. Satellite images from NASA show huge swaths of smoke coming from small fires littered across the forests of Brazil.

And data from the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that there have already been more than 75,000 fires in 2019 alone. To put that in perspective, there were just over 40,000 fires in all of 2018.

While the summer months are typically Brazil’s dry season, agencies like NASA say the fires this year could be record breaking.

RELATED: Smoke from Amazon rainforest fires can be seen from space

So, the fires are certainly a problem worth paying attention to, but there are multiple claims taking over social media that haven’t been proved and could mislead.


This tweet, with nearly 450,000 retweets, is an important signal boost for the fires engulfing the Amazon. However, the tweet has several misleading elements.

Neither picture in the tweet is from this year’s fires in Brazil. The first one can be found in a 2007 article from The Guardian that dates the picture to 1989. The other photo is in this article from 2012, although the image itself doesn’t have a date attached.

Fires happen around this time in the Amazon every year, so that could probably be why it seems media attention to them has just started to grow. However, that doesn’t mean the fires have entirely lacked news coverage until this week. 

Euronews wrote an article about the fires early last week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sought to bring attention to them around the same time last week. NASA was publishing articles about the fires as early as July.

It is true that articles like these didn’t really reach the mainstream until this week. But they are here now for good reason.

INPE, the Brazilian space research institute, reports that wildfires in the Amazon are up 84% over the same period in 2018. In fact, the number of fires this year is the highest since INPE began tracking the data in 2013.

If that wasn’t reason enough, images of the daytime Brazilian sky turned dark by the smoke have captured attention.

RELATED: Brazil's largest city plunged into night-like darkness in middle of the day


The fires got more international attention when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shared a theory that non-government organizations (NGOs) intentionally began the fires to make his government look bad.

He said this on a Facebook Live stream.

Neither Bolsanaro or anyone in his administration gave any evidence or sources to back up the claim. And he’s also the target of theories online.

RELATED: Brazil's president suggests Amazon fires are being set to make him look bad

Posts like this also claim that the fires were started intentionally, but they say it was the work of the Brazilian government.

At this point, there is no concrete evidence to prove or back up either of these claims.

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