UKRAINE – A major blaze has broken out in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – the site of the worst nuclear disaster in human history. The fire hit a forest some 20 kilometers away from the ill-famed nuclear power station.
The blaze inside Chernobyl’s ‘dead zone’ in northern Ukraine started on Sunday when dry grass caught fire, the Ukrainian emergency service said in a statement. The blaze then reached a forest near the abandoned village of Bychki located some 24km (15 miles) away from the damaged nuclear reactor.
Some 5 hectares (12 acres) of forest went up in flames. Three firefighting vehicles and 18 emergency crew members were dispatched to tackle the blaze, according to the emergency service’s statement.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, an area heavily contaminated by the disaster, has repeatedly witnessed wildfires over recent years. A large fire broke out there in June 2018. Another blaze, which scorched 25 hectares (60 acres) of land, hit it in 2017.
While the burning of possible radioactive wood and shrubs could release some dangerous combustion products into the atmosphere, the statement issued by Ukrainian officials mentioned no such risks for now.
Chernobyl became the site of one of the biggest nuclear disasters in history, when a local power reactor blew up during a safety system test on April 26, 1986, leading to massive contamination of the surrounding area and beyond. The catastrophic explosion released 400 times more radioactive material than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
The severely damaged reactor was sealed off by a protective ‘sarcophagus’ of steel and concrete, while the nearby town of Pripyat had its 50,000 population evacuated. A radioactive cloud covered a massive chunk of Europe in the wake of the disaster.