Brazilian warplanes dump water on Amazon fires as outcry mounts

G7 leaders stepped up pressure on president Jair Bolsonaro to tackle destruction of precious rainforest

A Hercules C-130 plane dropping water to fight fires in the state of Rondonia, Brazil.

Brazilian warplanes have begun dumping water on burning forest in the Amazon state of Rondonia, responding to an outcry over the destruction of the world’s largest tropical rain forest.

President Jair Bolsonaro authorised military operations in seven states on Sunday to combat raging fires in the Amazon, responding to requests for assistance from their local governments, a spokeswoman for his office said.

A video posted by the defence ministry on Saturday evening showed a military plane pumping thousands of litres (thousands of gallons) of water out of two large spouts as it passed through clouds of smoke close to the forest canopy.

The response comes as leaders of countries in the G7 nations meeting in France expressed grave concerns over the fires.

French president Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that the G7 was nearing a deal to provide “technical and financial help” to countries affected by the Amazon fires.

Nearly 80,000 fires have been registered across Brazil this year, the highest since at least 2013, according to space research agency INPE.

Bolsonaro announced the military would move in on Friday after several days of criticism from the public and world leaders that Brazil’s government was not doing anything to fight the fires.

He also said on Twitter that he had accepted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of a plane and specialised support for the firefighting operations, following a call between the two leaders.

But outside Rondonia, the government had yet to provide any operational details for other states. The defence ministry said in a briefing on Saturday that 44,000 troops were available in Brazil’s northern Amazon region but did not say how many would be used where and what they would do.

Military personnel around Porto Velho appeared to be largely coordinating firefighting efforts, according to a Reuters witness.

Asked for additional details, the ministry said that in all seven states that have asked for help, the military is planning operations to support firefighting initiatives already underway.

The justice minister, Sergio Moro, had also authorized a force of military police to assist in fighting the fires, with 30 set to be sent from Brasilia to Porto Velho. The president’s office posted to Twitter a photo of police officers on a plane bound for Rondonia set to arrive at noon.

Environment minister, Ricardo Salles, posted a video showing a caravan of yellow fire prevention trucks and other government vehicles, saying they were on the ground responding in Rondonia.

Colombian president Ivan Duque said on Sunday he would seek a conservation pact with other Amazonian countries – first in bi-lateral meetings in Peru this week and then at the United Nations general assembly.

“Colombia wants to lead a pact, a conservation pact, between the countries that have Amazon territory,” Duque said after meeting with an indigenous community in the Amazonian city of Leticia in southern Colombia. “We must understand the protection of our Mother Earth and our Amazon is a duty, a moral duty.”

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is seen as vital to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide that it absorbs.

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