Local residents and Savannah River Site employees may soon see or hear a helicopter overhead and smell wood smoke, according to an SRS Facebook post published on Monday.

The helicopter and smoke are part of the Site's winter prescribed burns – a procedure that is part of the SRS Prescribed Burn Program which protects the Site from wildfire.

The burns are started by small plastic spheres filled with potassium permanganate and ethylene glycol that are released from a dispenser attached to the helicopter. While the spheres drop, a chemical reaction takes place and once they hit the ground, a small fire is lit.

Once the burns are complete, the aviation group conducts reconnaissance flights to report hot spots and check for wildfires.

According to Angelia Adams from the Operations Office, the project is being conducted by the United States Forest Office and overseen by the Wackenhut Services Incorporated, the Site's security contractor.

“Site security is paramount, and prescribed burning, conducted by the (forest office), helps protect important site infrastructure from wildfire,” Adams stated in the post. “It is important that these burns are conducted during carefully prescribed conditions, when (the forest office) and (Wackenhut Services Incorporated) Aviation are prepared.”

Department of Energy helicopters are used to make the burns safer. According to the post, the helicopter procedure is more efficient than conducting it by hand.

“Ignition is completed in a much shorter period of time when using helicopters than hand ignition,” according to the post. “It takes four or more hours to hand light a prescribed burn of 1,000 acres. When helicopters are used, the same acreage can be ignited in an hour or so.”

Todd Hatfield, the security contractor's aviation manager, added that the partnership's overall goal is continuing the safety and security of SRS. In addition, it also gives the helicopter pilots more practice.

“In addition to assisting the (forest office), these prescribed burn missions provide valuable training for our helicopter pilots,” Hatfield stated in the note. “This additional training enhances our abilities to support the SRS security mission.”

United States Forest Office-Savannah River, part of the Department of Agriculture, has provided natural resource management at the Savannah River Site since 1952, under an interagency agreement.

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard.

He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.