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Lethargic lava flow stays static for days but is still being fed

  • COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
    Scattered “breakouts” such as this one
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PAHOA, Hawaii » The front of a lava flow threatening Pahoa remained stalled Sunday and had become "relatively cold," but geologists cautioned that the stop-and-start behavior is reminiscent of the flow that overran Kala­pana in the 1980s and early 1990s.

"It’s very characteristic of pahoe­hoe," Frank Trusdell, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said Sunday, referring to the type of lava flowing out of Kilau­ea Volcano.

Despite a few active "breakouts" farther behind the front of the flow, the good news Sunday was that no buildings or roads were in jeopardy.

"It’s status quo for the last two or three days now," Trusdell said.

Since the lava moved into Pahoa more than a week ago, it’s crossed Apaa Street, overrun a Buddhist cemetery and destroyed two structures: a 10-by-15-foot potting utility shed on a farm lot near Apaa Street on Tuesday; and another farm structure on Friday made out of four wooden posts and a corrugated iron roof designed to give shelter to cattle near Cemetery Road.

The front of the lava remained stalled Sunday 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road — Pahoa’s main street — where it has moved only inches since Thursday.

While the flow showed little activity Sunday, the heat from the lava that has been on an agricultural lot since Oct. 27 ignited macadamia trees and other foliage, said Darryl Oli­veira, head of Hawaii County Civil Defense.

But the lava posed little threat to the farmer’s warehouse and adjacent residence, Oli­veira said.

Since Tuesday another "finger" from the flow has remained stalled 100 feet from a two-story rental home on the farmer’s lot. A more active breakout farther back was still about 100 yards from the house, Oli­veira said.

One breakout also remained 25 feet from a fence around Pahoa’s $3.5 million waste and recycling center, where Apaa Street becomes Cemetery Road, but it was 100 yards from the building itself. A ravine and catchment pond lie between the lava and the building, Oli­veira said.

Some breakouts behind the front of the flow continued to move perpendicular to the flow at a rate of about 5 yards per hour but were "relatively quiet" Sunday, Oli­veira said.

While the front of the flow remains stalled, the flow itself is "still receiving lava" from its source 13.5 miles away at Kilauea, said Mike Poland, a geologist from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

The flow that began June 27 is part of a larger eruption that has gone on for nearly 32 years, Poland said.

Asked yet again when the flow might end, Poland said, "We don’t see any indication of it stopping any time soon."

With the front of the flow halted 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road, Poland said breakouts could form a new leading edge, but "there is no indication of that" yet.

Police continued to investigate a resident’s report Friday that a man posed as a government official behind police blockades Friday, asking to conduct an assessment of the woman’s property, Oli­veira said.

Pahoa has a "sizable homeless population," and it’s easy to get to the lava area through the rural community, Oli­veira said.

"There are some indications he may have been a resident" but could have been a homeless person hiding in the area, Oli­veira said.

On Sunday, Civil Defense officials also issued minimum altitude requirements of 800 feet for private helicopters hired by media to fly over the flow.

Until Sunday pilots had no minimum height restrictions, and officials worried that wind from the helicopters could fan the lava’s heat and trigger more fires — and put residents and government workers in danger.

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