An active breakout near an abandoned geothermal well has been declared the new flow front, a stream of lava that could threaten the Pahoa area in as soon as 12 days if it continues on its current pace.
However, scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said late Monday that the lava flow from Kilauea Volcano could slow down in the coming days given the decrease in lava that was measured in the lava tube Monday — as well as the less steep topography the leading edge is approaching.
The narrow ribbon of lava, which has been moving an average of 440 yards a day on the north side of the current lava field, was within 2.9 miles of the intersection of Highway 130 and Pahoa Village Road, Hawaii County Civil Defense and HVO officials said Monday.
The new flow was a breakout that officials were monitoring for a few weeks before it took off from the lava field over the weekend. The lava stream is moving north-by-northeast with a width that varies from 33 to 200 yards.
For now it remains no threat to residents, officials said.
"It’s a significant ribbon moving down," said Darryl Oliveira, Civil Defense administrator.
Oliveira said that if the flow continues on its steepest-descending path, it could threaten the area where the Pahoa Marketplace shopping center is on Pahoa Village Road near Highway 130. Businesses there include Malama Market, Pahoa Hardware and Pahoa Fresh Fish.
But that same path runs near another steepest-descent path, and the area’s topography is relatively gentle, meaning it’s hard to say which path it will ultimately follow, officials said.
It’s possible the flow could switch tracks or split up and travel down both pathways, Oliveira said. The parallel path veers east toward the Hawaiian Paradise Park subdivision.
"All of the area downslope from Paradise Park through Pahoa is potentially impacted by these flow lines," said Mike Poland, a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geophysicist.
During Monday’s midday overflight, HVO scientists measured the cross section of the lava stream within the tube near Puu Oo and found a 25 percent reduction in lava compared with last week.
A smaller lava stream is consistent with less lava flowing through the tube due to deflation of the summit lava lake, which has been ongoing since Saturday morning, they said.
The old front near Pahoa Village Road remained cold and inactive, and Pahoa Village Road, the main road through Pahoa, remained open Monday.
Officials reopened the road Wednesday, ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend, although they urged drivers to use caution in the area and to respect private property and the residents in the area affected by the lava flow.
Smoke in the area was light to moderate Monday, with wind blowing the smoke from burning vegetation in a southeast direction. But there was no brush fire threat.
The next lava flow community update meeting will be held with representatives from Civil Defense and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Pahoa High School cafeteria.