By Marcelo Silva de Sousa

The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops Saturday were deploying in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests, as well as an international outcry.

President Jair Bolsonaro tried to temper global concern, saying that deforested areas had burned and that intact rainforest was spared. Even so, the fires were likely to be urgently discussed at a summit of the Group of Seven leaders in France this weekend.

Some 44,000 troops will be available for “unprecedented” operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.

The military’s first mission will be carried out by 700 troops around Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia, Azevedo said. The military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 3,170 gallons of water on fires, he said.

An Associated Press journalist flying over the Porto Velho region Saturday morning reported hazy conditions and low visibility. On Friday, the reporter saw many already deforested areas that were burned, apparently by people clearing farmland.

The municipality of Nova Santa Helena in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state was also hard-hit. Trucks were seen driving along a highway Friday as fires blazed and embers smoldered in adjacent fields.

The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis. On Friday, the president authorized the armed forces to put out fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.

Azevedo, the defense minister, noted President Donald Trump’s offer in a tweet to help Brazil fight the fires, and said there had been no further contact on the matter.

23905762