Fires in Brazil's Pantanal wetland surge to November record on lack of rain

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The number of fires in Brazil's Pantanal, the world's largest wetland, surged in the first few days of November, breaking the record for the month since monitoring began in 1998, data from space research agency Inpe showed on Tuesday.

The 2,387 fires recorded by Inpe in early November is already more than double October's figure and more than half of the total fires seen this year so far. On Sunday, Inpe detected 706 active fires.

Fires have more than tripled in the Pantanal compared with 2022, which was mild compared with the two previous years.

Weather experts point to the El Nino phenomenon, aggravated by climate change, as being behind the sharp increase in fires.

Normally, the region starts to receive rains at the end of September, said Vinicius Silgueiro, a coordinator at the Centro de Vida Institute.

"We're having a very unusual November with the climate change situation and the effects of El Nino: very high temperatures at a time when we would have already had rain and higher air humidity," he said.

"There was sporadic rainfall at the end of October, but two or three days after it stopped, the fires came back," he added.

Historically, November averages 442 hotspots. The previous record for the month, set in 2002, was 2,328.

Last Saturday, the federal government redoubled firefighting efforts in the region, bringing its team tackling the blazes to nearly 300, while also adding four aircraft.

"Much of the area that had burned in 2020 is burning again. These are areas that had just started natural regeneration," Silgueiro said, explaining that burned soil is very fragile, which hinders its recovery.

"The government has to prepare for a recurring risk as a result of the climate crisis, which requires measures to prepare, prevent and respond. Even more so in a biome that has lost 57% of its surface water since 1985," he said.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Gerry Doyle)