KEY POINTS

  • Forest fires broke out near the uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone last Saturday
  • Radiation levels spiked in the area because of the fires
  • Radiation levels in nearby areas are normal
  • The fires were reportedly started by a man who was setting fire to the grass 'for fun'

Two forest fires broke out near the village of Vladimirovka within the uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone last Saturday afternoon. According to authorities, the event caused a spike in the radiation levels in the area.

"There is bad news - radiation is above normal in the center of the fire," head of Ukraine's ecological inspection service, Yegor Firsov, said in a Facebook post. "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."

This means that the radiation level in the area was about 16 times more than the normal background reading. Further, the levels also surpassed the maximum allowable amount of background radiation, which is 0.5 microsievert per hour (╬╝Sv/h), making the reported radiation level five times higher than it should be.

In an update, Firsov clarified that the spike in radiation levels did not extend to Kyiv or the city of Chernobyl itself, where the radiation levels were reportedly normal. Although authorities did issue a warning for Kyiv about poor air quality, it was related to meteorological conditions and not the radiation levels.

"(Y)ou may not be afraid to open windows and airing the premises during quarantine," Firsov said in a Facebook post.

The fire was reportedly started by a 27-year-old man from the area who told police officers that he simply set rubbish and grass on fire in three places "for fun." Unfortunately, the wind picked up and he was unable to control the blaze. As a result, authorities had to deploy over 100 firefighters, planes and a Mi-8 helicopter to stop the fire.

Although fires are quite common in the area because it has been overtaken by nature, evidently, authorities have been dealing with "careless citizens" setting fires to the grass, particularly in autumn and spring. Because of the event, Firsov is calling for new legislation that will impose harsher penalties for people who start grass fires in the area.

Right now, the penalty for starting grass fires is about $6.50 for arson. According to Firsov, the fines must increase by 50 to 100 times, otherwise, large fires will continue to occur.

Chernobyl (3) A radiation sign set in front of a crucifix in Prypyat, near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, on April 8, 2016. Photo: Getty Images/AFP/SERGEI SUPINSKY