Friday, August 5, 2011

Pele awakes: Kilauea Volcano gives Hawaii visitors a show with new eruption

Adrian Boone /Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park   
Media release:

Hawaii National Park, HI Kīlauea’s new eruption action from Puu Ō‘ō vent’s west flank and the glow from Halema‘uma‘u crater continue to draw visitors to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and while rangers prepare for a busy weekend, multi-agency fire managers work on extinguishing fires sparked by the new flows.

Park-goers on Thursday evening enjoyed views of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō’s west flank eruption from several spots. Rosy clouds of gas and ash were visible from the bottom of Chain of Craters Road looking up towards Puu Ō‘ō, where nearly 600 visitors gathered. At Puu Huluhulu, hundreds of flashlight-wielding hikers made the two-and-a-half mile round-trip trek and were treated to a rare “double header” of lava activity: a deep orange glow from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō’s advancing flows about six miles away, plus a reddish glow from Kīlauea’s summit eruption at Halemaumau crater about 12 miles away. Newly installed reflectors mark the trail, but hikers must have flashlights, drinking water and wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes.

Spectators at Jaggar Museum overlook got the reverse view, a steady glow emitting from Halemaumau Crater, with views of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō’s new activity to the southeast.

Park rangers made several flights over the new flow, and estimate it has added approximately 615 acres of new lava.

“It’s an exciting and memorable time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and we’re expecting a busy weekend,” said Talmadge Magno, Chief Ranger and Incident Commander. “Safety is our first priority, but because of careful monitoring of fire smoke and SO2 levels, we were able to reopen Chain of Craters Road on Thursday, and viewing opportunities are safe and can be superb, weather permitting.”

Park rangers will be stationed at Pu‘u Huluhulu until 8:30 p.m. and at Jaggar Museum until 9 p.m. through the weekend. And while rangers prepare for an influx of visitors, fire crews have been working on putting out blazes and monitoring conditions.

A wildfire, estimated at six acres total, was ignited by lava and burned through forests of native Hawaiian and alien vegetation. A small blaze on the southern branch of the flow was nearly contained Friday afternoon. Seven firefighters were flown in by helicopter, and used hand tools, chainsaws and water from 80-gallon bladder bags to suppress the fire.

Meanwhile, a multi-agency emergency response team mobilized at the Visitor Emergency Operations Center in the park, keeping close tabs on current eruption conditions and another fire, estimated at five acres, at the north stretch of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō’s flow.

Approximately 30 personnel from agencies including Hawai‘i County Civil Defense, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park’s Fire Management team, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and Whiskeytown National Park were called into action.

“Right now we’re not sending any crews into the fire to the north but will watch it closely. Conditions are too hazardous,” said Fire Management Officer Joe Molhoek. In addition to methane explosions and tree snags, giant earth cracks make the ground treacherous.

The fires, and the recent flows, are entirely within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. No residential areas are currently threatened. 

Most areas within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park are open. Closures due to potentially hazardous emissions include Nāulu Trail, Nāpau Trail to Nāpau Crater, and
Crater Rim Drive past Jaggar Museum (unchanged since March 2008).

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