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Fires put out in Chernobyl exclusion zone

Hundreds of firefighters have been battling several forest fires around Chernobyl for the past 10 days.

In this photo taken from the roof of Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant late Friday, a forest fire is seen burning near the plant inside the exclusion zone
In this photo taken from the roof of Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant late Friday, a forest fire is seen burning near the plant inside the exclusion zone
Image: AP/PA Images

Updated Apr 14th 2020, 5:10 PM

UKRAINIAN EMERGENCY OFFICIALS say they have extinguished forest fires in the radiation-contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but acknowledged that grass is still smouldering in some areas.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by aircraft have been battling several forest fires around Chernobyl for the past 10 days. They contained the initial blazes, but new fires raged closer to the decommissioned plant.

Emergencies Service chief Mykola Chechetkin reported to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that rain helped firefighters put out the flames, but acknowledged it would take a few more days to extinguish smouldering grass.

Chechetkin said emergency workers have prevented the fire from engulfing radioactive waste depots and other facilities in Chernobyl.

The emergency services said radiation levels in the capital Kyiv, about 60 miles south of the plant, are within the norm. 

Yesterday, activists warned that the blazes were getting dangerously close to waste storage facilities.

Yaroslav Yemelyanenko, a member of the public council under the state agency in charge of the closed zone around the plant, said one fire was raging just over a mile from one of the radioactive waste depots.

Last week, officials said they tracked down a man suspected of triggering the blaze by setting dry grass on fire in the area. The 27-year-old said he burned grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish the fire when the wind caused it to spread quickly.

Police said yesterday that another local resident burned waste and accidentally set dry grass ablaze, triggering another devastating forest fire. They said he failed to report the fire to the authorities.

The 1,000 square mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the April 1986 disaster at the plant that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe. The zone is largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained despite orders to leave.

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.

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