When Peggy Fallwind returned home from dinner Monday night, she was shocked.
"I thought the white and red lights were vehicles parked around my lot," said the 54-year-old Kalapana resident. "I was surprised when I approached, it was lava."
After receiving a warning from Hawaii County Civil Defense three weeks earlier, Fallwind had begun preparing for the possibility of evacuation by moving out some belongings.
But nothing on Monday signaled imminent danger.
"The lava had quieted around me the 24 hours before this took place," Fallwind said.
Shortly after 9 p.m., she found lava covering the top of her driveway, and a significant amount of lava had moved in the four hours that she had been gone.
Within 40 minutes, from 11:20 p.m. to midnight, the two-story home she had built and the flourishing garden she had coaxed out of barren rock for the last eight years were in flames.
The surface flows in Kalapana have been coming down the pali and flowing down the east side of earlier flows for months, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologists said. The lava continued to move across Fallwind’s lot yesterday.
Fallwind’s house became the third casualty in the last six months. The last was Nov. 28.
"We knew the lava was coming for her next," said Chris Williams, 24, who lives mauka of Fallwind. He awoke Monday night and saw "rivers of lava right up to her house. … The second it touched her house, it burst up into flames."
Williams, one of about 30 who gathered around, described Fallwind as "pretty calm" as she "watched it go up."
Former neighbor Gary Sleik, the first to lose his home July 25, had returned from the mainland to Kalapana to be with Fallwind.
"He remembered what it was like waiting that week," she said. "He came back to be of moral support …
"Because he’s been through it, he understands my love of it. He’s a great neighbor and a great friend."
Fallwind, a Cincinnati native, closed a healing arts practice and moved to the islands 12 years ago in search of a healthier environment to find relief from chronic pain. She set down roots in Kalapana eight years ago and her health dramatically improved.
"This was an environment I could thrive in," she said, but realized the dangers.
"The land is as temporary as life," she said. But "just because the land is temporary doesn’t mean that the land is not worth the effort to put into it. Sure it’s a risk, but it’s a much better gamble than Las Vegas."
She planted yellow ohia as a gift to Pele, recalling that the only thing growing when she bought the property was a small ohia tree.
After her house succumbed to the lava, Fallwind got her first good night’s rest in months on her carport floor.
"When you’re that exhausted — people coming through at all hours day and night (to view the lava) — with the house burning, there was a sense of relief," she said.
"At least it’s over. I’m out of the fishbowl, and I’ll stop having people disturbing my sleep," Fallwind said.