On Saturday, a fire broke out near the village of Vladimirovka, a town which sits within the deserted 1,000 square mile exclusion zone near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, causing radiation levels near the site of the reactor disaster to spike. According to reports, the spike reached 17 times their normal level.
A total of 138 firefighters, two planes, and a helicopter spent the weekend trying to contain the fires which were spread between one larger blaze and one smaller. Ukrainian emergency services released a statement saying that, as of Monday, both remain ongoing.
The radiation spike caused particular concern after Egor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s ecological inspection service, shared a video on Facebook where he explained the severity of the Geiger counter reading. The Geiger counter is an instrument used to detect and measure radiation levels, and the information showed a significant spike in radioactivity. “As you can see in the video, the readings of the device are 2.3, when the norm is 0.14. But this is only within the area of the fire outbreak,” Firsov wrote in the post.
Authorities say that the fire was most likely caused by human negligence. During spring and fall, Ukraine typically sees spikes in human-sparked forest fires across the country; however, they are the most dangerous around Chernobyl as the trees and plant life are still contaminated with radiation after the plant’s fourth nuclear reactor exploded during a safety test gone wrong in 1986. As a result, 54 people died from the radioactive fallout billowed across Europe exposing millions to dangerous levels of radiation. A giant protective dome was built over the fourth reactor which remained until 2016, but, more than 30 years later, people are still not allowed to live within 20 miles of the power station.
The nuclear disaster was reintroduced into the popular discourse with the HBO miniseries Chernobyl which is largely based on the accounts of people who were there, the majority of whom died soon after.
When fires burn down trees and other plants in the area, it is possible for radioactive materials to be remobilized and transported by the wind, leading some to believe that stricter consequences and higher fines should be given to anyone who starts fires in this area. The current fine for starting a fire in Ukraine is the equivalent of $6.50, reports NBC News. “This can’t continue,” Firsov continued in his Facebook post. “The fine must go up 50-100 times.” For now, it seems Ukraine is focused on dealing with the fire first hand though it's also reported that Kiev, the Ukrainian capital which sits 60 miles south of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, remains at normal radiation levels.