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April 13, 2000

A weekly feature provided by scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.


House Number 182 burned by lava

A house burst into flames on Thursday afternoon, April 6, when it was overrun by lava. This house, at the foot of the Royal Gardens subdivision, is the latest of 182 structures to be destroyed by the ongoing eruption along Kilauea's east rift zone. It's the first such loss since October 1991.

The house, abandoned for some time, was a two-story open-air structure of post-and-beam construction. Two sides on each story were enclosed only by screen and, at one time, must have provided a peaceful view of lush vegetation and maybe a glimpse of the ocean.

The house had been isolated many times by lava flows. Eruptions from Pu`u `O`o first overran part of the Royal Gardens subdivision in March 1983. Over the next year, `a`a flows entered the subdivision half a dozen times and destroyed 16 houses. Several streets within the subdivision were buried, but vehicle access to the subdivision itself remained open until November 1986, when the main coastal highway was buried by flows from the Kupaianaha vent.

The highway department optimistically reopened Highway 130 for general use in February 1987. Kilauea closed the road for good less than two months later, when flows from Kupaianaha established what would become a lava thoroughfare to the ocean. Shortly thereafter, flows blocked the original access road leading from Highway 130 to Royal Gardens. Since that time, almost 13 years ago, Royal Gardens has seen a succession of short-lived private access roads.

Until June 1989, determined property owners could reach Royal Gardens via a long drive down the Chain of Craters Road in the National Park. Near the Waha`ula Visitor Center was the turnoff to an access road that had been bulldozed across Park property. Once the flows destroyed Waha`ula and spread to the west, however, access to the subdivision required a hike of ever-increasing length across the new flows.

A rough private jeep road was reestablished from Kalapana in 1997 after the Kupaianaha vent had been inactive for four years, again providing vehicle access to the few homes remaining in Royal Gardens. Part of the private road was buried downslope of Royal Gardens later in 1997. The road reopened in 1998 and was partly buried most recently in January 2000. Lava flows have been encroaching upon the coastal plain near Royal Gardens ever since. On February 17, 2000, we notified Hawai`i County Civil Defense that lava flows could destroy structure 182. The advance has been slow, however, because low-lying areas south and east of the house had no outlet for the lava. Consequently the impounded lava flows expanded slowly. Flow margins crept outward as lava was injected from upslope into the molten interior of the lava flows. The house was doomed but intact when we last saw it on the morning of April 6; by 4:00 p.m. it was destroyed. From the County Assessor's point of view, the property lost most of its value when access was obstructed. Hawai`i County places a baseline valuation of $100 on property inundated or made inaccessible by lava flows. Taxes then fall to the $25 minimum yearly fee. Structure 182 has faced the three inevitable elements of life in the south part of the Big Island: taxes, death, and inundation by lava flows.

Eruption Update

Eruptive activity of Kilauea Volcano continued unabated during the past week. Lava is erupting from Pu`u `O`o and flowing through a network of tubes toward the coast. Lava is visible at times on Pulama pali, and surface flows are active in the coastal flats near the Royal Gardens subdivision private access road. Lava is intermittently entering the ocean in the vicinity of Waha`ula. The public is reminded that the ocean-entry areas are extremely hazardous, with explosions accompanying sudden collapses of the new land. The active lava flows are hot and have places with very thin crust. The steam clouds are highly acidic and laced with glass particles.

Two earthquakes located near Pu`ulena crater were felt by residents of Leilani Estates on Tuesday morning, April 11. The earthquakes at 10:04 a.m. and 10:06 a.m. were from a shallow depth and had magnitudes of 3.2 and 2.8, respectively.

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Updated: 17 Apr 2000