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Radiation fears grow with forest fire near Chernobyl nuclear plant

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Emergency teams in Ukraine on Monday continued battling a forest fire in the contaminated area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that has raised radiation fears.

Two blazes erupted Saturday in the zone around Chernobyl that was sealed after the 1986 explosion at the plant.

Firefighters said they have managed to localize one of the fires in an area of about five hectares (12 acres), but the second one continued burning, covering about 20 hectares (50 acres). They said they were using aircraft to extinguish the blaze.

The authorities said that radiation levels in the area engulfed by fires substantially exceeded normal levels, but the emergencies service said radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south, were within norms.

The 2,600-square-kilometer (1,000-square-mile) Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the April 1986 disaster at the plant that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe. The zone is largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained despite orders to leave. Blazes in the area have been a regular occurrence.

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Amanda St. Amand is the digital editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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