The Tenharim contribute ten men in shifts to the fire brigade, from a pool of 23. At the center of their world is a gathering of huts, where modern and abnormally loud pop music often blares. This place is disconnected from the bustling businessmen in Brazil’s capitals who would happily invest in the forest. Yet the outside world has long wanted a piece of their paradise.
Their land is bisected by the highway 230, the Trans-Amazonian, built by the military in 1972.
Then it brought in diseases, they said, and caused intense protest. Now it churns with dust and huge trucks stream past cattle and discarded logs. The highway lined with signs of how fast the outside world is stripping the Amazon of its riches. Deforestation to help grow soy, to feed China, and to create pasture for cattle to graze in. The global appetite for beef is stoking the pace of destruction, at a rate of one and a half soccer fields per minute, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research.
One enduring question is how the fires are started. Most policemen, officials, investigators, and firefighters CNN spoke to over a week accepted that a large number were started by people eager to clear land and exploit it afterward. President Bolsonaro has suggested some of the 85% rise
in fires throughout Brazil this year may be natural, although some experts have challenged that idea, saying many are man-made.
Yet on flat and dry savannas, natural fires do occur more commonly, sometimes because of lightning, said Daniel Botini-Alves, a researcher into tropical savanna forest fires at Sao Paulo State University.
“Fires in indigenous forests are mostly man-made and that’s where the biggest fires are,” he added. “For five or six months now we’ve been seeing increased deforestation and fires are a consequence of that.” He added that later in the year, when the dry season ends, more fires could occur when fires are lit to clear the pasture to grow afresh in the rainy season.
But Marcio Tenharim retains hope, because without that, there are only ashes. Asked about his children’s chances there, he said: “Probably they’ll have time, and this isn’t the end. It won’t be like before.”
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