Forest fire burns 5km from Chernobyl nuclear plant

A forest fire that has been burning for several days in northern Ukraine is now just 5km (three miles) away from the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Tour operator Yaroslav Emelianenko said the Red Forest to the west of the plant had been burned.

He warned that if the fire reached the abandoned town of Pripyat, which used to serve the power plant, it would be an economic disaster.

Tourists are still able to visit the town under strict controls.

Police said the fire had been burning since the weekend of 4 April, after a man set fire to dry grass near the exclusion zone. It has since moved closer to the nuclear plant.

More than 300 firefighters with dozens of pieces of special hardware are reportedly working at the site, while six helicopters and planes are attempting to extinguish the fire from above.

Kateryna Pavlova, acting head of the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management, told the Associated Press news agency that they “cannot say the fire is contained”.

“We have been working all night, digging firebreaks around the plant to protect it from fire,” she said.

On 5 April Yegor Firsov, acting head of Ukraine’s state ecological inspection service, said in a Facebook post that radiation levels in the area had risen substantially above normal.

Government officials later rejected this finding, and said the levels in the area were “within normal limits”. Mr Firsov also withdrew his remarks.

Smoke from the fire is now blowing towards Kyiv.

Chernobyl nuclear power station and the nearby town of Pripyat have been abandoned since 1986, when the plant’s No. 4 reactor blew up.

The explosion sent a cloud of radioactive fallout across much of Europe, with the area immediately around the plant worst affected.

People are forbidden from living within 18 miles (30km) of the power station.

Chernobyl’s other three reactors continued to generate power until the plant was finally closed in 2000.

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