RECIFE, Brazil – The governor of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in two municipalities due to wildfires in Brazil’s portion of the Pantanal, an enormous area of wetlands shared with Paraguay and Bolivia.
Since Jan. 1, the area has seen 3,800 fires, twice as many as during the same period of 2019, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research.
Gov. Reinaldo Azambuja’s declaration “complements” the existing state of emergency covering the entirety of the Brazilian Pantanal, the state civil defense coordinator, Col. Fabio Santos Catarinelli, told reporters.
The vast majority of the 394 fires now raging in Mato Grosso do Sul are within the limits of the municipalities of Corumba and Ladario, both located near the Bolivian border.
Just in the last week, the flames have consumed more than 26,000 hectares (64,197 acres) in the Pantanal, the world’s largest flooded grasslands.
Designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Natural Heritage Site, the Pantanal sprawls over 340,000 sq. kilometers (131,275 sq. miles) – roughly half the size of France – and is home to a wide array of flora and fauna, including endangered species such as the jaguar, giant anteater, puma and swamp deer.
The name “Pantanal” is derived from the Portuguese word pântano, denoting a wetland, bog, swamp or marsh.
A Brazilian air force Hercules C-130 cargo plane dispatched to Corumba at the start of the week was in the sky on Tuesday supporting the efforts on the ground by the Mato Grosso do Sul Fire Department.
Additional C-130s were expected to join the fight against the blazes later Tuesday.
The neighboring state of Mato Grosso, also part of the Pantanal, is also experiencing fires, mainly concentrated in the area of Pocone, near the Pantanal Matogrossense National Park.
Smoke and ash from the Pocone fires have drifted as far as Cuiaba, capital of Mato Grosso, roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
Wildfires are also on the increase in Brazilian Amazonia, despite a government order instituting a four-month ban on the traditional farming practice of using fire to clear land for planting.