Some residents who live in the Puna District of the Big Island are casting a nervous eye toward Kilauea these days, wondering just what the volcano is up to.
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"Hopefully we talk to the goddess and maybe she might just wash it the other way," said Sean Hanohano, a Keaau resident and volunteer firefighter at Paradise Park.
The lava flow that's been raising eyebrows as of late is known as Kahauale'a 2. The flow is currently 5.2 miles from Pu`u `O`o crater after beginning its on-again, off-again march to the northeast nearly a year ago. Since stalling in November, the flow has advanced three-quarters of a mile.
"It's mostly just kind of hanging out in the same area, just kind of covering the same ground over and over again," said Jim Kauahikaua, scientist-in-charge at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "It hasn't really advanced much since late last year."
Regardless of its snail-paced progress, HVO and Hawaii County Civil Defense see the lava flow as a potential menace. During a meeting last Thursday in Mountain View, officials met with residents who live near the volcano. The most pressing question was whether the lava poses a danger to homes.
"Downhill puts it through the Ainaloa subdivision and across Highway 130 and into the Paradise Park subdivision," said Kauahikaua. "But that of course means the flow would have to advance quite a ways, and with the rate that it's going now, it's debatable whether that will ever happen."
During the meeting, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Kahauale'a 2 does not pose an "imminent threat" to property, but county officials continue to monitor the situation closely. He said the immediate concern is what the lava may do to forest in the Kahauale'a Natural Reserve Area, where the flow is currently located.
"Should it dry out, it could pose a brush fire hazard as well as the smoke conditions," said Oliveira. "So, in addition to the lava flow and eruption, we are monitoring those environmental factors that could pose a hazard to the community."
However, as with any lava flow from Kilauea, there's always a worst-case scenario. For residents of Puna, having Highway 130 resurfaced by 2,000 degree lava would be a very big deal.
"If it went all the way to the ocean, Puna would be totally isolated, totally cut off, because there's no access from the other side anymore," said Hilo resident Mick Kalber, a professional photographer who has made a living documenting the volcano's activity. "People would have to fly in to get in there."