efe-epaSao Paulo

Amazonas on Sunday became the seventh state in Brazil to request assistance from the armed forces in fighting the fires burning in the Amazon region, officials said.

The federal government agreed to provide 38.5 million reais (about $9.6 million) in funding for firefighting operations after the Defense Ministry released a plan Saturday showing how approximately 44,000 members of the military would be used to battle the blazes in the vast Amazon region.

The budget is slightly larger than the 28 million reais (some $7 million) expected by the Defense Secretariat to cover the first month of firefighting operations.

On Sunday, President Jair Bolsonaro thanked world leaders who are working with Brazil to deal with the crisis over the fires in the Amazon.

"Many thanks to the dozens of heads of state who have listened to me and helped us overcome a crisis that only interests those who want to weaken Brazil!" Bolsonaro said in a Twitter post.

Last week, protesters took to the streets in cities across Brazil and abroad to slam Bolsonaro for his alleged inaction in the face of wildfires that are devastating the Amazon region.

Some world leaders also criticized the Brazilian government's efforts to fight the blazes in the Amazon.

French President Emmanuel Macron, for his part, threatened to veto a prospective European Union trade deal with Mercosur - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - if the Brazilian government does not live up to its commitments to protect the Amazon.

Bolsonaro said last week that non-governmental organizations that oppose his environmental policies were the "biggest suspects" behind the fires, offering no evidence to support the accusation.

The president, who took office in January, has moved to roll back environmental protections and to dismantle barriers to development in indigenous reserves.

Environmental and other NGOs said they fear that settlers and agri-business interests out to expand their holdings may be setting the fires in response to Bolsonaro's "anti-environmental" policies.

The armed forces began fighting the fires on Saturday night, deploying C-130 Hercules planes to target specific blazes.

The large cargo planes carry five tanks filled with up to 12,000 liters of water, the air force said.

About 30 National Public Safety Force firefighters, all specially trained to fight forest fires, left Sunday for Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia state and a city located in the heart of the Amazon.

The states of Acre, Rondonia, Roraima, Mato Grosso, Para, Tocantins and Amazonas have now requested firefighting assistance from the armed forces.

In Amazonas, located in far northern Brazil on the border with Venezuela, Colombia and Peru, more than 5,000 fires have been recorded in August, officials said.

Local officials said the fires' dense smoke, which contains toxic compounds, led to an increase of some 30 percent in the number of people being treated at clinics in some cities.

Along with seeking military assistance, the Amazonian states have created local teams to fight the fires that are rapidly consuming the jungle.

In Acre, which is under a state of emergency, the fire department received at least 88 calls about outdoor fires in Rio Branco, the capital, over a 24-hour period.

Neighboring Rondonia launched a comprehensive operation to fight the fires.

Under an executive order signed on Friday by Bolsonaro, the armed forces will be deployed in the Amazon on Sept. 24, helping fight the fires.

The National Space Research Council (INPE), which monitors fires in Brazil using satellite imagery, said the number of blazes in the country was up 83 percent compared with this time last year.

The INPE said in a report released on Aug. 20 that 52.5 percent of the 71,497 fires registered between Jan. 1 and Aug. 18 were in the Amazon region.

While drought is a factor, experts say that accelerating deforestation is the main driver behind the spike in wildfires. EFE

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