Ukraine fights fires in Chernobyl zone, says no radiation jump

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Ukraine fights fires in Chernobyl zone, says no radiation jump

A geiger counter measures a radiation level at a site of fire burning in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

KIEV (Reuters) - Local authorities in Ukraine have dismissed residents' concerns that forest fires near the Chernobyl nuclear power station have led to unsafe radiation levels.

The radiation levels in the capital Kiev and the exclusion zone established around the plant in 1986, after an explosion there that caused the world's worst nuclear accident, "did not exceed natural background levels", the zone's authorities said.

The emergency service said it was still fighting the fires but the situation was "fully under control".

After the explosion in April 1986, people were evacuated and resettled from the 30 km (19 mile) exclusion zone around the nuclear plant, and the zone is still strictly controlled.

The fires began on Friday evening in the western part of the exclusion zone and spread to nearby forests, some of which are in the part of the zone that still has higher radiation.

Footage shot by the emergency service shows forests covered with dense smoke, burning grass and shrubs.

The emergency service said the area affected had increased to 35 hectares by Tuesday afternoon, and planes and helicopters were being used to fight the blaze.

The fires follow unusually dry weather but police also say they have identified a 27-year old local resident accused of deliberately setting fire to garbage and grass.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)