August 2019 saw dramatic increases in wildfires in the Brazilian Amazon, leading to arguments between Brazil and G7 leaders and widespread concern among conservationists. Popular media reports suggested that ‘swathes of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil are on fire’. Here we investigate the spatial distribution of fires through August 2019, showing that fires were largely restricted to deforested regions and areas with low canopy cover, particularly in unprotected areas. In contrast, Brazil’s protected areas had one third as many fires, and forest in protected areas with high canopy cover was almost entirely unaffected by fire. Protected areas reduce deforestation and carbon emissions, and have proved largely untouched by recent fires.