(CNN) — Fires are raging at a record rate in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and scientists warn it could strike a devastating blow to the fight against climate change.
The fires are burning at the highest rate since the country’s space research center, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), began tracking them in 2013, the center said Tuesday.
There have been a total of 72,843 fires in Brazil this year, with more than half in the Amazon region, the INPE said. That’s more than an 80% increase compared with the same period last year.
The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20% of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere.
It is considered vital in slowing global warming, and it is also home to uncountable species of fauna and flora. Roughly half the size of the U.S., it is the largest rainforest on the planet.
Dramatic images and videos on social media show giant plumes of smoke rising from the greenery, and lines of fire leaving blackened waste in their wake.
The smoke has reached all the way to Sao Paolo, more than 1,700 miles away. Images from the city show the sky pitch black in the middle of the afternoon, the sky and sun blanketed by smoke and ash.