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Chernobyl's Exclusion Area Sees Surge in Radiation Levels Following Pair of Forest Fires

Jason Duaine Hahn

The area around the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine briefly saw a spike in radiation levels as forest fires ripped through the region this weekend, according to officials.

Firefighters worked from Saturday on to extinguish two blazes near the power station, the first of which began near the village of Vladimirovka, according to CNN. The village is near the Chernobyl exclusion zone, which encompasses a wide area of land that was evacuated — and has largely remained uninhabited — following the 1986 nuclear disaster.

As the blazes spread through the area, Egor Firsov, the head of Ukraine’s ecological inspection service, found that radiation levels at the center of the larger fire had increased to frightening levels.

“There is bad news — in the center of the fire, radiation is above normal,” Firsov said in a Facebook post on Sunday, which included a video of him using a Geiger counter, an instrument used for detecting and measuring ionizing radiation.

“As you can see in the video, the readings of the device are 2.3, when the norm is 0.14,” he continued in the post, which was translated by CNN. “But this is only within the area of the fire outbreak.”

Fortunately, the spike in radiation did not seem to extend outside of the area, as there was no increase observed in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which is located about 60 miles from the exclusion zone, according to ABC News.

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A person holding a Geiger counter at the scene of a forest fire at the Chernobyl exclusion zone

More than 120 firefighters were reportedly sent to the largest fire, and 14 were sent to a smaller blaze, which erupted nearby.

In all, the dual fires tore through more than 250 acres, according to Firsov.

In his Facebook post, Firsov said he believed the blazes were started by someone setting grass aflame.

“The problem of setting fires to grass by careless citizens in spring and autumn has long been a very acute problem for us,” Firsov wrote. “Every year we see the same picture — fields, reeds, forests burn in all regions.”

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Authorities later identified a 27-year-old man who said he set fire to garbage and grass in the area “for fun,” ABC News reported.

Forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka,

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Fires have reportedly erupted in the area each of the last three years. Firsov asked that lawmakers put in place harsher penalties for anyone who causes fires.

As of Monday, the fires were extinguished and radiation levels had returned to normal limits, according to NBC News.