Forest Fires Are Raging Dangerously Close To Chernobyl’s Nuclear Site
A giant forest fire raging close to the restricted zone around Chernobyl, Ukraine, has led to a serious spike in the region’s radioactivity levels. The region had, in 1986, experienced one of the world’s most devastating nuclear accidents, killing and injuring thousands of people who lived there.
“There is bad news – radiation is above normal in the fire’s center,” wrote Yegor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, in a Facebook post about the site of the fire. The fire covers around 20 hectares within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone — an approximately 2,600 km area restricted to public access due to its proximity to the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor.
The fires were started by a man, now arrested, who set fire to some grass and rubbish “for fun,” according to The Guardian. He did not anticipate the direction of the wind, which spread the fire, and thus couldn’t put out what he started in time. Firefighters put out the smaller of the two resultant forest fires, but more than 100 firefighters with planes and helicopters were deployed to snuff out the remainder.
Firsov, in his post said, “We have long been seeing the problem of arson grass by unconscious citizens in the spring and autumn. However, the penalty for such a violation is still only 175 UAH (around Rs.500). And every year we see the same picture – in all regions burning fields, reed, forests… It can’t go on like this anymore.”
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The fires also raised radiation-related alarm in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, located about 60 miles south of the region, but authorities confirmed that people were safe. According to Firsov’s Geiger counter, the radiation levels — normally 0.14 — had increased to 2.3, but only in the immediate region of the fire outbreak. Regarding the city suburbs, Firsov also added, “You don’t have to be afraid of opening your windows and airing out your home during the quarantine.”
Authorities also confirmed that gamma radiation levels — penetrating electromagnetic radiation that is harmful to human beings — have not risen near the fire. However, any serious spike in natural background radiation levels does lead to health effects, depending on the severity of the spike. This means firefighters, police officials and any potential trespassers in the region will be at risk depending on how the situation plays out near the fires.
As firefighters continue to battle the remainder of the forest fires within the Chernobyl exclusion zone, Ukrainian police have also ramped up patrols in the region to prevent new fires, according to Al Jazeera.