“There’s nothing more terrifying than a wall of fire advancing through your backyard,” says Ronnie Gibson, a volunteer firefighter in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. “I was completely caught off guard by a fire in my neighborhood twelve years ago. The fire approached at an alarming rate and leveled my house. That was my call to action. I realized that the community was totally unprepared to deal with these forces of nature.”
Today, Gibson is at the forefront of firefighting activities in a subtropical location where summers are typically long, hot and humid. In this part of Brazil, fires have been increasing in frequency and intensity due to changes in climate and agricultural practices. Gibson is a member of Brigada Carcará , a volunteer organization that works in alignment with local municipal firefighting agencies to protect the environment through the prevention and control of wildfires.
“Much of our work revolves around educating people about the need for an ecologically balanced environment,” Gibson said. “We also provide support to communities and wildlife affected by natural and environmental disasters.”
The best way to fight fires is to prevent them from breaking out in the first place. This requires 24-hour vigilance, especially during hot, dry periods. Early detection is critical. A wildfire usually starts when dry grass and undergrowth are ignited, creating a ground fire, which is easy to control. If it grows in a wildfire, it can jump to the treetops, leading to a crown or canopy fire where flames spread quickly. Corona fires are considerably more difficult to control and can easily turn into a conflagration, which is virtually impossible to extinguish.
Fires occur monthly, even during the rainy season. There is a constant struggle for resources, labor and equipment. Gibson's goal is to hire some full-time workers because, as passionate as they are, volunteers have day jobs and other obligations, making it difficult for them to drop everything every time a fire breaks out.
“If we get there within the first ten minutes, we can usually nip a fire in the bud before it spreads. After 15 or 20 minutes it will be impossible to control. So, early warning is essential,” he said.
But it's not just about sending people into the fire. The group needs someone to answer the phone at all times as more and more requests are coming in. He himself is constantly monitoring a vast territory on his laptop. In addition to being passionate, volunteers must be flexible to respond to sudden calls. His four-person team includes a yoga teacher, an artist, a carpenter and a gardener, people who can put down the tools of their trade to make a call.
The hours are long; volunteers arrive home tired and dirty. The day doesn't end after the fight. “I spent hours gathering the data – location, territory covered, number of people involved, type of vegetation burned, resources used – every detail needs to be recorded. Meanwhile, I did my laundry and prepared my gear for the next day,” says Gibson, describing his daily tasks.
When it comes to data, however, things have improved. A dedicated team from SAP Brasil has developed a georeferencing, image recording and real-time data platform that is helping the Carcará Brigade fight forest fires, rescue bees and plant trees in a broad reforestation program.
“The platform helped us modernize our entire service structure and allows us to generate essential data for monitoring and analyzing occurrences in real time”, says Marcio Amorim, co-founder of the non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of people and wildlife and nature. “We are experiencing a completely new reality thanks to technology. Previously, we relied entirely on manual data entry, which led to errors and did not provide the visibility needed for preventive actions.”
Amorim and team used outdated maps and are now tracking and tracing everything using GPS coordinates on their mobile devices, capturing images of the damage, measuring the impacted territory and identifying the species and number of dead and injured animals.
Based on the SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) and the SAP HANA in-memory database, the application allows Brigada Carcará to achieve three objectives:
- Prevent wildfires through enhanced monitoring capabilities and relevant data analysis
- Save and restore apiaries in partnership with Cresan, a local non-profit dedicated to preserving and protecting the 130 native species of bees to the region
- Revitalize and replant forests impacted by fires – tasks include analyzing charred land and tree remnants and managing nurseries to grow native species for reforestation
While some of the analytical tasks may have taken several days to complete, they are now done in a matter of minutes.
Focused on the future
Pif Paf, one of the leading Brazilian meat and poultry producers, and Grupo LPJ, the SAP implementation partner that got the application up and running, wanted to help SAP develop the application.
As a member of the Global Compact, with more than 1,000 food products for national and international consumption, Pif Paf has been a leader in the humane management of animals on farms and their journey to slaughter.
On the front line of fighting forest fires since 2014, Brigada Carcará has been called out 310 times since 2020, playing a prominent role in protecting the region's natural and cultural heritage.
“Thanks to the SAP app, we are much better prepared,” said Gibson. “We can also exchange data and best practices with other parts of the country and even other countries like Portugal that suffer from extreme conditions prone to forest fires.”
For nature and communities, whatever your vision – it’s a win for everyone.