Wildfires near Chernobyl nuclear plant extinguished by emergency services

George Martin
·2-min read
In this photo taken from the roof of Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant late Friday April 10, 2020, a forest fire is seen burning near the plant inside the exclusion zone.  Ukrainian firefighters are labouring to put out two forest blazes in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power station that was evacuated because of radioactive contamination after the 1986 explosion at the plant. (Ukrainian Police Press Office via AP)
A photo taken from the roof of Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant shows a distant forest fire in the exclusion zone. (AP)

Wildfires raging in the radiation-contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant have been extinguished although grass is still smouldering in some areas, Ukrainian officials have said.

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.

A Geiger counter shows increased radiation level against the background of the forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, Sunday, April 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Yaroslav Yemelianenko)
A Geiger counter shows increased radiation level against the background of the forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka in the exclusion zone. (AP)

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

The emergencies service said radiation levels in the capital Kyiv, about 60 miles south of the plant, are within norms.

On Monday, 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.

RAGOVKA, UKRAINE - APRIL 10: Checkpoint "Polesskoe" in radioactive Chernobyl zone in Polesskoe, Ukraine on April 10, 2020.  Fire from the radioactive Chernobyl zone approaches the village of Ragovka. Fires are dangerous for the nearest villages and neighboring countries. Authorities suspect arson of illegal visitors to the radioactive Chernobyl zone. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A checkpoint on the edge of the exclusion zone. (AP)

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.

On Monday, police said 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.

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.