Many of us were watching the mighty fires destroying our beloved Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Horrifying videos spread across the across social media at the speed of light and everybody was praying for some heavy rain to minimize the damage made by the wildfires. On April 4th, the fight with the fire started and ended it finally ended a few weeks later. Many beautiful places within the Exclusion Zone are forever lost, but fortunately, the firemen saved the most important places, so people can again visit Pripyat, Chernobyl, Duga radar and many other villages around the zone again. How did this happened? What was the reason of for such massive wildfires and who are we to blame?
Let’s talk about the bare facts first. Wildfires are not a new phenomenon to the Chernobyl Zone ecosystem. Some last several days, others almost a week, but none of them were as terrible and dangerous as the ones we experienced this year.
How did the fires occur in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone?
We can list many causes of flame development — from climate change to attempted arson or careless handling of the fire. With temperatures warming due to climate change, Ukrainian weather has became much hotter than in previous decades. Winter 2019-2020 was warm and dry without snow or rainfall for months at a time, which lead to the drying out of vegetation. To sum it up so far — a hot summer, a warm dry winter, and dry vegetation — gave the perfect combination to create the apocalyptic wildfires that swallowed Chernobyl.
A good way to assess how bad the fire was, is the scorch marks on the trees.
Were the fires in Chernobyl man made?
Burned tree near the entrance into Chernobyl town.
Police in the Kyiv region caught a citizen suspected of setting fire to the forest in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It turned out to be a 27-year-old resident of the village of Ragovka. According to him, he committed the crime for fun — scorching grass and garbage in three places.
The second suspect is a 37-year-old resident, who had burned trash. The man is liable to a fine or restriction of liberty for a term of two to five years or imprisonment for the same term. Ukrainian police have reported that the cause of the Chernobyl Zone’s biggest 2020 wildfire is still officially under investigation.
Is the fire still burning?
Chernobyl nature is recovering after the wildfire. There is green grass, but the body of the trees are black and the leaves are yellow like in Autumn.
No, the fires were largely extinguished within two weeks, but still, it made a huge damage impact to local fauna & flora. When we came to the Zone and looked around, we felt an ambivalent feeling — bittersweetness. On the one side we saw black dead trees, and on the other — green, fresh grass and life. We were confused as to how fast nature was able to recover from the devastating fires.
“According to preliminary estimates, 11.5 thousand hectares of the South-Western part of the reserve were affected, which is about 5% of the reserve’s territory. Approximately 35% of them are forests, 55% are lea lands, and 10% are wetlands”, — said Oleksandr Halushchenko, director of the Chernobyl Radiation and Ecological Biosphere Reserve. Far from seeing an ecosystem collapse, we could see an ecosystem change. And that change may or may not be desirable from a human point of view.
The first stage of the restoration of the natural environment after a fire is the growth of grass cover. As experts predicted, it recovered in a month.
Is it dangerous to visit Chernobyl now?
“Hollow path” on the way to the Duga Radar.
It’s completely safe to visit Chernobyl now. The fires are extinguished, the radiation level is back at normal measures and the natural environment of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is slowly restoring from the wildfires.
Before the April Сhernobyl Wildfire this path was blessed with greenery and life. Outside, the scorch marks now reach the tops of the trees. The ground below is littered with fallen logs and dead leaves. It seems like a desert with black trees — a “Hollow path”.
But it was only the beginning. Today, on the ground is also visible green grass like a response to damage from the fire is also visible and proof that the vegetation isn’t actually dead. All we need is time. The better the day, the better the deed.
Once, Dominik Orfanus, the founder of ChernobylX, told me — “Chernobyl is a place of hope”.
I see it now — hope.
A hope that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone will soon recover. And a hope that such wildfires will never occur again. A hope that the zone will survive for another generation of visitors.