Brazilian troops enlisted to fight unprecedented wildfires in Amazon rain forest

Thousands of Brazilian troops entered the fight Saturday to battle the worst wildfires in the Amazon in years, even as European leaders huddled to discuss a strategy for dealing with the country’s embattled leader, President Jair Bolsonaro.

The right-wing Bolsonaro conceded to worldwide pressure in making some 44,000 troops available for “unprecedented” operations to put out the fires, many of which were started by loggers and ranchers, a bloc that supports the right-wing president.

The military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 3,170 gallons of water on fires in six Brazilian states: Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.

As the blazes expanded beyond the agricultural land they were intended to burn this week, international leaders and ordinary citizens pressed Bolsonaro to act.

But he initially resisted sending the military, calling the worldwide concern “sensationalist” and reflecting a “colonialist mentality.”

His reluctance had European leaders plotting behind the scenes at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, to pressure him.

During a tete-a-tete that was unknowingly caught on tape, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would call Bolsonaro next week “so he gets the impression that we are not working against him,” Bloomberg reported.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron backed her plan.

It was unclear how European leaders would respond to Bolsonaro’s decision to deploy troops. He said he was “speaking to everyone” about the problem.

Bolsonaro has accused Macron of politicizing the issue by making the Amazon and broader climate issues a more important part of the G7 Summit agenda.

Bolivia and Paraguay are also trying to contain fires that swept through woods and fields, in many cases also set to clear land for farming. A U.S.-based B747-400 SuperTanker is flying over Bolivia to help put out the fires and protect forests.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo acknowledged President Donald Trump’s offer in a tweet to help Brazil as well, but said there had been no further contact on the matter.

Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are more widespread this year. Brazilian experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018.

It is unclear how much of what is burning was already deforested for agriculture.

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