NOTE: This story was produced for our TV program on Na Leo o Hawaii and uploaded to YouTube in January 2013, but it was only posted to our website in December 2013 as a part of our Best of 2013 series.
HAWAII ISLAND – January is Volcano Awareness Month on Hawaii Island, and last week marked the 30th anniversary of Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone eruption, which began on January 3, 1983. The volcanic activity continues today.
The lava flows bring wonder and attention to the island… but also destruction. The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory counts 214 structures that have been destroyed by lava since the eruption began.
Yet, while Madam Pele takes, she also gives. The national park service says about 500 acres of new land has been added to the island since 1983. The fissure that began this 30 year eruption at first produced towering lava fountains, which eventually became the Pu’u O’o crater that we know today.
In the years since, fast moving lava flows have destroyed homes in the Royal Gardens subdivision and the seaside village of Kalapana.
When Big Island Video News arrived to document the eruption in 2008, there was an ongoing lava ocean entry that served as a spectacle for residents and tourists alike. Hawaii County set up a viewing area to maintain some control over the waves of visitors to the lava flow. Sometimes, the activity was subdued… and at other times, it seemed like the whole world was on fire.
A hike to get closer is best undertaken in the company of experts… geologist Tim Orr guided our camera out to see the site in 2010.
The view can be just as good… and a little less exhausting… by air. Multiple tour companies take advantage of the show, charting helicopter tours above the volcano.
But we soon learned that one of the best ways to see the event was by sea… on board the popular lava boat tours like Lava Ocean adventures. It all adds up to a sort of “lava economy” on the Big Island.
The lava flow has also been an inspiration to many photographers over the years. Some folks, like Leigh Hilbert, have spent long days documenting the activity around Kalapana, hiking for miles to get the shots that others dont have the fortitude for. Or Mick Kalber, one of the top video “vulcanographers” to film the eruption.
And then, there are the lavatics who actually live by the action. Peggy Fallwind lost her spot to lava a short time after this interview. Some, like Bo Lozoff, were eternally attracted to Madam Pele… When Lozoff died at the end of 2012, his ashes were scattered in the lava field he loved so much.
Perhaps the highest profile lavatic of them all… Jack Thompson, who for a little over 29 years withstood the eruption in his Royal Gardens home, even as it destroyed every other building in the ill fated subdivision.
He held out as long as he could… even after all roads in and out of the neighborhood were covered by lava. He even ran a bed and breakfast from his isolated home. But in 2011, Jack’s stand ended.
The ongoing destruction is a reminder of why it’s important to understand how volcanoes work. Thats why the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has prepared a month long series of talks and events about Kilauea – as well as the island’s much larger Mauna Loa volcano… which is mercifully quiet at the moment… all with the intention of spreading the awareness of the island’s greatest natural wonder. Only time will tell what the next 30 years have in store.
The 30th anniversary of the eruption was noted by the governor during a recent press conference, who hoped that maybe the nation’s top executive would take a moment to consider Hawaii Island’s top tourist destination.