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New fires rage in Amazon as Brazil military planes battle flames

Porto Velho, Brazil, Aug 27 (AFP/APP):Hundreds of new fires have flared up in the Amazon in Brazil, data showed Monday, even as military aircraft dumped water over hard-hit areas and G7 nations pledged to help combat the blazes.

Smoke choked Porto Velho city and forced the closure of the airport for nearly two hours as fires raged in the northwestern state of Rondonia where fire-fighting efforts are concentrated, amid a growing global uproar and a diplomatic spat between France and Brazil.

“In some way we’re all passive smokers,” said Sergio Pereira, head of a children’s hospital in the city where more people than usual are seeking treatment for respiratory problems.

“The smoke can be really aggressive and the most affected are children and the elderly.”

Two C-130 Hercules aircraft carrying thousands of liters of water on Sunday began dousing fires devouring chunks of the world’s largest rainforest, which is seen as crucial to keeping climate change in check.

Swaths of the remote region have been scorched by the worst fires in years.

Seventy personnel — firefighters and troops — have been deployed to put out the blazes, the Rondonia government said Saturday.

Images posted on the presidential office Twitter account Monday showed firefighters wearing bright orange or yellow clothing using water backpacks to douse flames.

Experts say increased land clearing during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing has aggravated the recurring problem this year.

Seen from above, the destruction in Rondonia is dramatic: walls of flames advancing across the expansive forest beneath enormous plumes of thick smoke.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has ordered an investigation into reports that rural producers in the northern state of Para held a “day of fire” on August 10 in a show of support for the far-right leader’s efforts to weaken environmental protection monitoring.

On Monday, Brazil’s Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva claimed after meeting with Bolsonaro that the fires in the Amazon are “under control.”

“It has been exaggerated a little that the situation was out of control — it wasn’t,” he said. “The situation isn’t simple but it is under control.”

The crisis has fueled a row between Bolsonaro and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who has been piling pressure on the Brazilian leader to do more to protect the forest.

Macron on Monday condemned “extraordinarily rude” comments made about his wife Brigitte by Bolsonaro a day earlier.

Bolsonaro hit back, accusing Macron of treating Brazil like “a colony or no-man’s land.”

The spat comes as G7 nations meeting in southwestern France agreed to spend $20 million on the Amazon, mainly to send fire-fighting aircraft.

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