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Wildfires Once Again Rage Nearby the Chernobyl Nuclear Site

Scientists warn that wildfires around the site of the catastrophic 1986 explosion could release radiation trapped in the soil and vegetation.
Photo par Andrew Kravchenko/AP

A fire is raging across half a square mile of drought-stricken land surrounding the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. It's the second fire to hit the area since late April.

After a reactor exploded at the plant in 1986, authorities established an 18-mile exclusion zone that remains off-limits to most people today. Some parts of the zone remain highly contaminated.

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Ukraine's State Emergency Situations Service reported early Tuesday that the fire was within the exclusion zone, according to the Ukrainian news service Interfax. But the country's Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources later told reporters the fire is burning outside of the zone. He added that the blaze started due to drought.

The fire started Monday night and was still burning Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported.

Firefighters are working 24 hours a day amidst strong winds, according to a post on the emergency service's Facebook page. Radiation levels are within normal, the agency said.

In late April, the largest forest fire in Ukraine since 1992 came within 12 miles of the Chernobyl plant.

In February, researchers warned that fires nearby Chernobyl "pose a high risk of redistributing radioactivity." And, say scientists, wildfires in the area could become more frequent and more intense due to climate change.

Related: Wildfires could make Chernobyl more radioactive