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Forest fires rage near Chernobyl nuclear plant

Ukraine’s emergencies services say there is no threat to the facility.

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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)

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)

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)

Forest fires are raging in the contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but officials insist there is no radiation threat.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by aircraft have been battling several forest fires around Chernobyl since last week. They managed to contain the initial blazes, but new fires are now raging close to the decommissioned plant.

Volodymyr Demchuk of Ukraine’s state Emergencies Service insisted the situation is under control.

“There is no threat to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, waste fuel storage or other critical facilities,” he said.

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A forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka (Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP)

A forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka (Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP)

AP/PA Images

A forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka (Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP)

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

“The situation is critical,” he said on Facebook.

Last week, officials said they had 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 expand quickly.

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Increased radiation near Volodymyrivka (Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP)

Increased radiation near Volodymyrivka (Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP)

AP/PA Images

Increased radiation near Volodymyrivka (Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP)

On Monday, police said 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.

PA