Belarus:800 Hectares of Forest on Fire in Chernobyl-Contaminated Zone
Source: Agence France Presse, 19 July 2002
Belarus — Eight hundred hectares of forest and peat were on fire Friday in an area of Belarus contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Belarussian media reported.
The ex-Soviet republic’s emergency ministry Valery Astapov appeared on national television to assure the population that the situation was not dangerous. “No rise in radioactivity levels has been observed in the villages near the fires,” he said. The minister added that 1,000 men and 150 vehicles were taking part in efforts to contain the blazes.The authorities in Belarus blamed the military, who delayed asking for help while they struggled to extinguish the fires which began near the Poleski testing range in the south of the country.
The drought and searing heat, with temperatures of 38 degrees Centigrade (100 degrees Fahrenheit), contributed to the spread of the forest fires.
A reactor in the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine exploded in April 1986, which contaminated large areas in the north of the country along with stretches of Belarus and Russia. Between 15,000 and 30,000 have died since the disaster in 1986 and nearly six million people continue to live in contaminated zones, according to UN figures.
Ukraine closed down the fourth and last reactor of the Chernobyl power plant in December 2000.