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Forest fires in Chernobyl exclusion zone bring hike in radiation

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A Geiger counter shows increased radiation level in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, April 5, 2020 (AP Photo/Yaroslav Yemelianenko)
A Geiger counter shows increased radiation level in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, April 5, 2020 (AP Photo/Yaroslav Yemelianenko)   -   Copyright  Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP
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Firefighters in Ukraine are battling to extinguish two forest fires in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power station that have brought a spike in radiation levels since they broke out on Saturday.

More than 100 firefighters, backed by aircraft and other equipment, are trying to contain the fires after working into the night on Sunday.

Authorities said the flames spread across an area of around 100 hectares, inside the 2,600-square-kilometre exclusion zone established after the 1986 disaster. Then, an explosion sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe in what is still the world's worst ever nuclear accident.

"There is bad news: radioactivity is higher than normal at the heart of the blaze," the head of the country's environmental inspection service, Yehor Firsov, said on Facebook. He posted a video showing a Geiger counter displaying a level of radioactivity 16 times above normal.

However, radiation levels in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv -- about 100 kilometres to the south -- were within norms, the authorities said on Monday. Their updated statement makes no mention of radiation in the area of the fires.

Yaroslav Yemelianenko/AP
A fire burns near the village of Volodymyrivka in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, Sunday, April 5, 2020. (Yaroslav Yemelianenko/APYaroslav Yemelianenko

The emergency services say that 124 firefighters have been involved in tackling the larger fire in Kotovsky Forest near the village of Volodymyrivka. Aircraft have been deployed to spray water over the affected area.

The fire covers about 20 hectares, while another smaller fire has been "localised", the authorities say.

Earlier on Sunday emergency services said there was no discernible rise in radiation levels despite having reported "difficulties" in trying to contain the fires, because of radiation detected in some areas.

Chernobyl has seen no industrial activity for the past 20 years. After the 1986 disaster, the Soviet authorities evacuated hundreds of thousands of people from a vast area around the plant.

The zone is still largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained.

Emergency Situation Ministry via AP
an aerial view of a forest fire burning near the village of Volodymyrivka in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine, April 4, 2020..Emergency Situation Ministry via AP