Washington: The thousands of fires burning in the Amazon don’t look like the major forest fires of Europe or North America -- instead, they are fuelled mainly by branches, vegetation and other byproducts of deforestation in cleared areas, experts say.
The dramatic scale of this year's fires is the result of a significant acceleration of deforestation for the lumber industry, for agriculture or for other human activities.
“In the tropics, fire is used extensively in a land-use environment,” said Jeffrey Chambers, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a specialist in rainforests.
“It's how you get rid of your agricultural waste products... And part of the reason why that works is because those fires don’t generally move into the forest,” he explained.
“A tropical rainforest is generally not flammable” because it's so humid.
California has the opposite problem: burning waste is prohibited because the forests are so dry, they could go up in flames at the smallest spark.
But in the Amazon, when an area of forest is cleared, the tree trunks are removed and the rest of the vegetation is burned on the spot during the dry season, which lasts from July to November.
For farmland, or for prairies, brush and weeds alike are heaped together, waiting for the dry season. That's what is burning right now.
Even when the fire manages to penetrate the dense forest -- called “primary” when it is still untouched -- it usually stays in the vegetation at ground level and generally does not reach the treetops, about 100 feet (30 metres) up.
The effect is just as devastating, though, because the tree trunks are damaged at ground level, but the overall image differs vastly from the massive fires that Europeans or Americans are used to seeing....