Forest Fires in Chernobyl have been devouring areas of the exclusion zone for over a week, and now concerns are growing about the blaze heading dangerously close to its nuclear reactor.
Reports come just a week after Ukrainian officials found a huge radiation spike in the area where the first fires began.
As the fires continue to spread, authorities are starting to fear that if it goes too close to the reactor, which exploded back in 1986, a possibility of radiation contamination can occur.
According to reports, hundreds of firefighters have been working hard to try to stop the fires which have been burning since April 5.
Officials said the fires had already ravaged 8,600 acres since the wildfires began and on Saturday, April 11, 400 firefighters, 100 fire engines and several helicopters had been sent to the zone.
While the radiation levels spiked 16 times higher last week from, experts say that even if it’s still much lower than the radiation given off by the initial explosion, it still poses a huge risk to the country’s residents.
Following the fires burning across the surrounding area of the exclusion zone, police have already evacuated residents from the village of Poliske which is located inside the zone.
Authorities reported that despite the fact people are banned from living within 30 kilometers (18 miles) of the power station, Poliske is believed to be the home of 20 residents.
Weather reports have shown the wind has blowing plumes of the radioactive smoke towards the Chernihiv region and the border with Belarus with fears that the smoke may make its way over to the country’s capital of Kyiv, which houses almost three million people, just 60 miles away.
The acting head of the agency that oversees the area that’s burning as of today, Kateryna Pavlova, told reporters in a statement:
“At the moment, we cannot say the fire is contained. We have been working all night digging firebreaks around the plant to protect it from fire.”
“Wind can raise hot particles in the air together with the ash and blow it toward populated areas.”
“We are lucky to have quarantine measures in place now as people stay at home, walk less and wear masks.”
According to the Ukrainian police, while forest fires around the Chernobyl region aren’t new, the current incident was reported to be an act of arson, and the man who started the fire has since been detained.
As fears continue to grow about the radioactive smoke spreading, Yegor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, confirmed in a statement that radiation levels in Kyiv were ‘within normal levels’ last week.
As of April 9, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said that background radiation levels continued to be within the normal range around the capital city.