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Fate of homes near lava flow uncertain

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Lava encroaches upon the home owned and built by carpenter Gary Sleik.
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Lava encroaches upon the home owned and built by carpenter Gary Sleik.
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The composite image above combines a thermal image with a regular photograph, taken Friday, showing the active flow front in Kalapana.

Although one house has been lost, and slow-moving lava from Kilauea Volcano has oozed onto the driveway of another, a Big Island official last night said he does not consider any of the roughly 35 remaining homes in the remote Kalapana area to be in imminent danger.

"We’re kind of in ‘wait-and-see’ mode," said county Civil Defense Director Quince Mento. "It’s moving rather sluggishly."

The first home claimed by the latest flow was engulfed in flames near Highway 137 early Sunday morning.

Homeowner Gary Sleik, a carpenter who built the residence, watched as fingers of lava approached from several directions, with one finally reaching it about 2:30 Sunday morning, according to Bruce Omori, Sleik’s friend and a freelance photographer who was there to record the home going up in flames.

"It was pretty sad to see it go," Omori said.

Four other homes, including the one where lava has reached the driveway, were within several hundred feet of the flow’s edge, but Mento said he did not expect the lava to present an imminent threat to those residences for at least another 24 hours.

Only one of those homes — the one with lava on the driveway — has been evacuated. Vehicular access to the area has been cut by the latest flow, so the owners have been walking to and from the home to remove belongings, Mento said.

Lava is now spilling into the ocean, though not robustly, which might have a siphoning effect and could prevent the flow from expanding in other areas, Mento said.

He also said the source of the flow appears to be decreasing, but the pace tends to fluctuate, making predictions difficult.

Stephen Rose of the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area said lava started entering the ocean yesterday afternoon.

Throngs of onlookers have been drawn to the remote area to witness the spectacle of the world’s only continuously erupting volcano. On May 21, Kilauea had its 10,000th straight day of activity.

Because his home was the closest to the public viewing area, Sleik has been hounded by reporters, trespassers and onlookers, and helicopters buzzed over his residence on a daily basis, Omori said.

Sleik, who could not be reached for comment, lived in the residence up until it went up in flames.

Omori described the early-morning Sunday scene in which a beautiful finger of lava crept toward the two-story structure on a clear night with a full moon. "It was kind of surreal."

Puu Oo — or Kilauea’s east rift zone vent — started gurgling on Jan. 3, 1983. About a week ago, lava began marching onto the Kalapana access road, eventually taking out the intersection of Highways 130 and 137.

Star-Advertiser reporter Kimberly Yuen contributed to this report.


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