Forest fires near Chernobyl nuclear plant are largely extinguished, authorities say
Ukrainian emergency officials said Tuesday that they have extinguished forest fires in the radiation-contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but acknowledged that grass was still smoldering in some areas.
Hundreds of firefighters backed by aircraft have been battling several forest fires around Chernobyl since last week.
They contained the initial blazes, but new fires raged closer to the decommissioned plant.
Emergency services chief Mykola Chechetkin reported to President Volodymyr Zelensky that rains helped firefighters put out the flames, but acknowledged that it would take a few more days to extinguish remaining hot spots.
Chechetkin said emergency workers prevented the fire from engulfing radioactive waste depots and other facilities in Chernobyl.
The 1,000-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the 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.
Ukraine’s emergency response agency said radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, about 60 miles south of the plant, were within normal ranges after the fires were contained.
Zelenskiy urged Ukrainians not to panic.
“We all remember the lessons of April 26, 1986,” the date of the disaster, he said in an online statement Tuesday. “No one is hiding the truth from you. Right now the truth is that the situation there is under control.”
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 a little more than a mile from one of the radioactive waste storage depots.
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 was unable to extinguish the fire when the wind caused it to spread quickly, authorities said.
On Monday, police said that another local resident burned waste and accidentally set dry grass ablaze, triggering another devastating fire. They said he failed to report the fire to the authorities.
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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