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Forest fires near Chernobyl cause radiation levels to spike

07 April 2020

Two forest fires within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have caused radiation levels to spike in the area to much higher levels than the norm. Ukrainian emergency services said that the fires started some time between April 3-4 and that one of the fires had spread across 50 acres.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The head of the state ecological inspection service, Yehor Firsov, said in a statement that one of the fires, which had grown to around 12 acres in size, had been extinguished while firefighters continued to extinguish the larger blaze. More than 100 firefighters, with the help of planes and helicopters, were still battling the fire on April 7.

Police arrested a 27-year-old man after he told them he had set fire to grass and rubbish “for fun”. He then tried to put them out but failed after the wind caused them to spread.

In his statement, Firsov said that radiation levels at the site of the fires was around 16 times above the normal level. The heightened levels meant the country’s emergency ministry sent out an alert in Kyiv on April 6 about the possibility of poor air quality but attributed the alert to meteorological conditions and not to the forest fires. Kyiv is located around 60 miles south of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Government specialists were sent to monitor air quality in the capital city but said there were no notable changes to radiation levels. Firsov released a further statement as a result and said locals did not need to be afraid of opening their windows.

On April 4, firefighters said they were facing difficulties when fighting the blaze in some areas due to the increased radiation levels. However, on April 6, the fire service said that gamma levels had not risen near the fire and that locals were not in danger.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, established in 1986 following the world's worst nuclear disaster, spans across 1,000-square-miles (2,600-square-kilometres) and was abandoned since the meltdown of the No.4 reactor at the Ukrainian nuclear power station in 1986.

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