Flames are ravaging Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, approaching the region’s main highway and threatening endangered species amid a near-record number of fires. Brazil’s national space research agency Inpe has registered 3,121 fires in the first 15 days of August, nearly five times higher than the same period a year ago. At the current pace, fires could approach the all-time record for any month since records began in 1998. Firefighters in the area worked to douse smoldering earth that was charred black as clouds of smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air. Speaking on a visit to Mato Grosso State to see the fire-fighting efforts in the Pantanal, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the challenges loom large. “The atmosphere is very hot, very dry, with strong winds and high temperatures,” Salles said. “We saw hundreds of fires along the journey throughout the day. Places where the planes and firemen have fought the fires directly without stopping, but still the fires are causing great damage to fauna, flora and to the Pantanal region,” he added. Roughly 8,500 square kilometers, or nearly 6% of the Pantanal, burned from January to July, according to government data. The Pantanal is 10 times the size of the Everglades wetlands in the US state of Florida. The region is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet with more than 4,700 plant and animal species, including threatened ones like the jaguar, according to advocacy group WWF.