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– As dozens of fires scorched large swaths of the Amazon, the Brazilian government Thursday struggled to contain growing global outrage over its environmental policies, which have paved the way for runaway deforestation of the world’s largest rain forest.

The fires, many intentionally set, are spreading as Germany and Norway appear to be on the brink of shutting down a $1.2 billion conservation initiative for the Amazon.

Concern over the environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro, which have prioritized the interests of industries that want greater access to protected lands, has also put in jeopardy a trade agreement the European Union and a handful of South American nations struck in June, following decades of negotiations.

“The ongoing forest fires in Brazil are deeply worrying,” the European Commission said in a statement Thursday. “Forests are our lungs and life support systems.”

Photos of the fires have been shared by NASA, politicians and celebrities this week, setting off a call on social media to #PrayForAmazon.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio called on his nearly 34 million Instagram followers to become more environmentally conscious in a post warning that “the lungs of the Earth are in flames.”

The Bolsonaro administration has reacted with indignation to the outrage, claiming without presenting any evidence that nongovernmental organizations could have started the fires to undermine the far-right president.

In the northern state of Rondônia, which has been among the most affected by the fires, indigenous leaders described watching wild animals dashing out of areas of the forest as the flames approached.

“We saw wild pigs, tapirs, armadillos, anteaters, snakes in larger numbers than we are used to,” said Adriano Karipuna, a leader in the Karipuna indigenous community, whose territory has been affected by fires. “We saw the forest covered in smoke, and the sky darkened. Our eyes became red due to the smoke.”

Karipuna said loggers are striding into protected areas, emboldened by Bolsonaro’s views that the legal protections granted to indigenous lands are an unreasonable impediment to profiting from the Amazon’s resources.

“He empowered them, he told them to invade,” Karipuna said in a phone interview.

Senior government officials in Brazil took aim Thursday at international news coverage and criticism from Western governments, calling their characterization of the fires intentionally misleading.

“There’s a reason why Brazil has the best environmental credentials and the best preserved forests in the word: We know how to protect and take care of what is ours,” Filipe Martins, a foreign policy adviser to Bolsonaro, wrote in a series of messages on Twitter. “If you are wondering who is going to save the Amazon, here’s a very straightforward answer for you: It’s not the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs.”

Brazil has strict environmental laws and regulations, but they are often violated with impunity. The vast majority of fines for breaking environmental laws go unpaid with little or no consequences.

Forest fires are common in Brazil during this time of the year, which tends to be cooler and drier. But the number now raging in the Amazon is unusually high.

Data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research shows that from January to July, fires had consumed 4.6 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon, a 62% increase compared to last year.

Joênia Wapichana, a federal lawmaker from the northern state of Roraima, was among a group of members of Congress who called Thursday for the impeachment of Bolsonaro’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles.

“The government has a duty to come up with an emergency plan for the Amazon,” said Wapichana, the first indigenous woman elected to Congress. “There is no response from the government. The government is acting in a defensive and desperate manner.”

In recent months, as the Bolsonaro administration has questioned the usefulness of the Amazon Fund bankrolled by German and Norwegian taxpayers, leaders in those countries have come to consider abandoning it.

The fund was started in 2008, when Brazil was making strides in curbing deforestation through an ambitious set of policies that included aggressive law enforcement and conservation efforts.