As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global conversation, it’s understandable if some unrelated news stories slip under your radar. Maybe you missed that Michelle Williams got married in secret (again), or that Bob Dylan put out a 17-minute-long song about the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. Or perhaps you, like me, somehow managed to miss that an area near Chernobyl — the site of worst nuclear disaster in world history — caught fire over the weekend.
According to CNN, a major fire broke out near the village of Vladimirovka, located in the Chernobyl exclusion zone this past Saturday afternoon, which spread as wind picked up and carried the flame. On Sunday, Ukraine’s emergency services reported that they had contained the main fire that covered 50 acres; as of Monday afternoon, though, responders were still fighting two smaller blazes within the uninhabited zone.
It appears the fires didn’t start from natural causes: Per the Guardian, police have arrested a 27-year-old suspect who told authorities he set fire to the grass “for fun,” and that he didn’t expect the fires to spread. Apparently, forest fires are not uncommon in the area. “The problem of setting fires to grass by careless citizens in spring and autumn has long been a very acute problem for us,” Egor Firsov, head of Ukraine’s ecological inspection service, wrote on Facebook. “Every year we see the same picture — fields, reeds, forests burn in all regions.”
Now, authorities are trying to assuage panic over radiation levels. In another Facebook post, Firsov claimed that the radiation levels in Kiev — which is about 60 miles away — and surrounding cities were within the normal range. However, in the area where the main fire raged, Firsov held a thermometer showing that radiation was 16 times higher than normal.
If the fire continues to spread and radiation levels rise, how will this affect businesses in the city? We’re not sure. This year has been a rough ride.