A spike has been reported in radiation levels in the restricted zone around Ukraine's Chernobyl Nuclear Plant due to multiple forest fires. "There is bad news – radiation is above normal in the fire's centre," Yegor Firsov, head of Ukraine's state ecological inspection service, said on Facebook on Sunday, March 5, adding that the fires spread to about 100 hectares (250 acres) of the forest.
More than 100 firefighters, three aircraft and 21 vehicles were mobilized to battle the blazes in the area around the Chernobyl, which had witnessed the world's worst nuclear accident back in 1986.
The Ukrainian State Emergency Service said that the blazes required as many as seven airdrops of water and that the situation is now under control. "As of April 5, 7:00 am, there was no open fire, only some isolated cells smoldering," it informed, denying Firsov's claim that the fires covered 250 acres of the forest.
The service further said that "an increased radiation background in individual areas of combustion" caused complications in fighting the fires. However, the radiation levels were subsequently brought down within normal limits.
"The elimination of forest fires in the Unconditional Exclusion Zone has been completed. Fire extinguishing is difficult for an increased radiation background on individual areas of combustion. There are no threats to the settlements," the service said in a statement.
Fires a routine threat near the disused power plant
A number of bushfires have erupted across regions of Ukraine in the last few weeks. The forested area around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is particularly prone to such accidents.
In 1986, one of the four reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded during a routine test. The blast and subsequent fire that continued for 10 days discharged vast amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere and polluted a large area of Europe.
Considered as one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, it led to thousands of deaths. The catastrophe forced mass evacuations in the surrounding areas of Ukraine as radioactive elements released from the fallout spread as far as Canada and the United States Of America.
(This is a developing story. More details awaited)