Radiation rises to 16 times above norm as firefighters battle blaze near Chernobyl
Kiev - Firefighters in the Chernobyl exclusion zone of northern Ukraine on Monday entered their third day of battling a forest fire in the area, still contaminated with radiation from the nuclear power plant disaster more than three decades ago.
Radiation in the area was 16 times higher than normal background levels, a senior environmental official, Egor Firsov, said in a statement.
About 25 hectares of forestland within the predominantly uninhabited area were ablaze on Monday morning, the State Emergency Service said in a statement. No victims have been reported.
About a fourth of the blaze was in the Chernobyl zone. The blaze was reported to have spread to an area of more than 100 hectares over the weekend.
About 140 firefighters have been working to extinguish the blaze.
Firsov, who heads a state environmental watchdog, said the blaze is believed to have developed from a grass fire.
Grass fires are common in the early spring as farmers conduct controlled burnings to remove brush. An investigation is under way.
Kiev police said later Monday that a 27-year-old resident of a small town outside the exclusion zone was being investigated on suspicion that he could have started the blaze.
The man, who could face up to five years in prison, is suspected of having burned grass and rubbish, and was unable to contain the fire because of windy weather, according to a police statement.
The 1986 reactor meltdown and explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, about 100 kilometres north of Kiev, is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.
Ukraine began facilitating tourism to the site in 2011 as the radiation released during the disaster had subsided to what the government deemed to be permissible levels.
Last year Ukraine recorded the highest number of tourists in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, near its northern border with Belarus, with more than 100,000 visitorsdpa