A large forest fire that tore through the area surrounding the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant and raised radiation to dangerous levels there has now been extinguished, Ukrainian officials say.
- Firefighters have gained control over fires that threatened the decommissioned nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine
- The fires caused radiation levels in the area surrounding the blaze to rise
- A 27-year-old man has been charged with lighting the fire
For ten days, hundreds of firefighters battled several fires around Chernobyl, using planes and helicopters to douse the flames.
At one point, the fire spread to as close as two kilometres away from the decommissioned nuclear power plant.
Environmental activists said on Monday that the fire which is believed to have been deliberately lit — near where the world’s worst nuclear disaster took place in 1986 — posed a radiation risk.
Authorities said radiation levels in the area substantially exceeded normal levels, however radiation levels in the capital Kiev, about 100 kilometres south, were within the normal range.
Assisted by rain, emergency services prevented the fire from spreading to either the plant or military facilities in the area, though they will need a few more days to fully extinguish it, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said in a statement.
Separately, the state agency responsible for managing the area around the plant said new fires had broken out to the west and south of the site, however their size was not immediately clear.
Last week, officials said they tracked down a person suspected of triggering the blaze by setting dry grass on fire in the area. The 27-year-old man said he burned grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish the fire when the wind caused it to spread quickly.
On Monday, police said that another local resident burned waste and accidentally set dry grass ablaze, triggering another forest fire. They said he failed to report the fire to the authorities
Parliament voted that same day to increase fines for arson.
The 2,600-square-kilometre Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the April 1986 disaster at the plant that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over parts of Europe.
The zone is largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained despite orders to leave, while the plant and the abandoned nearby town of Pripyat have become a draw for tourists, especially since a critically acclaimed US television miniseries about the accident was aired last year.
Blazes in the area have been a regular occurrence. They often start when residents set dry grass on fire in the early spring — a widespread practice in Ukraine, Russia and some other ex-Soviet nations that often leads to devastating forest fires.
The site is currently shut as part of a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.