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Lava imperils charter school and destroys endangered plants

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    Fissure 8 and a full lava channel as seen Tuesday during the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s early morning overflight. Steam generated from heated rainwater rose from the tephra deposits and lava flows surrounding fissure 8.


    The Nanawale haiwale, a shrub in the African violet family, is found only in the lowland wet forests of Puna and the only 200 mature plants existing in the wild were lost to the Kilauea eruption.


    Hilo Ischaemum, a native grass found mostly along the coast between Hilo and Puna, and several known sites where it grows have been covered by lava.

There is still no end in sight for the Kilauea eruption entering its 10th week as fissure 8 continues pumping lava into a channel leading to the ocean at Kapoho.

Hawaii County Civil Defense reported early Tuesday morning that the flow had split north and south, and expanded upslope of “Four Corners,” which remains closed, along with Kapoho Beach Lots. Late Tuesday afternoon the lava continued to enter into the channel leading northeast from the vent, while an overflow lobe continued to move around the west side of Kapoho Cone, creating small brush fires along the margins.

Seven hundred homes have been destroyed, according to Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for Hawaii County, which is counting properties where tax records match aerial surveys.

USGS images of the Kilauea volcano eruption in July

At the shoreline the lava continued to approach Ahalanui Beach Park, also known as the warm ponds, and was about 1,500 feet away from Kua o ka La Public Charter School, which was evacuated in May, according to Snyder.

Susie Osborne, co-founder of the school, is determined to keep it open for about 200 students, and has committed to relocating the classes to Hilo for the next school year, which begins in August.

With access cut off, students at the school had to finish their last 10 days at temporary locations in Hilo in late May. Now, with the lava flow closing in, it is uncertain whether students will ever be able to return to the campus.

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help the school with its relocation efforts.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, meanwhile, captured footage of lava oozing from a small breakout that is an overflow from the fissure 8 lava channel. The footage is posted to the @USGSVolcanoes Twitter feed.

The Kilauea eruption is also destroying two important populations of Hawaii’s endangered plants — the Nanawale haiwale (Cyrtandra nanawaleensis) and Hilo Ischaemum (Ischaemum byrone) — within the Malama Ki Forest Reserve and surrounding areas, according to state officials.

The 1,514-acre forest reserve and surrounding areas were buried under acres of lava or scorched by fumes of sulphur dioxide in June, killing the two largest known populations of these endangered plants, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said.

The Nanawale haiwale is a shrub in the African violet family, found only in the lowland wet forests of Puna. Before the eruption only 200 mature plants existed in the wild, representing more than a third of the known existing plants in Hawaii. They were lost to lava flows.

Hilo Ischaemum is a native grass found in coastal areas on several islands but mostly along the coast between Hilo and Puna. An estimated few thousand plants remain in the wild. Several of the known sites between Kapoho and Opihikao are now covered with fresh lava.

As the eruption continues, state Division of Forestry and Wildlife staff are preparing to salvage specimens from other sites to ensure the species is not lost to extinction. The forest reserve was not only home to Hawaii’s native plants, but served as a habitat to subpopulations of native forest birds.

An eruption update meeting was held Tuesday night at the Pahoa High School cafeteria. The Disaster Recovery Center, meanwhile, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends at the Keaau High School gym.

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