(Reuters) - A meandering stream of volcanic lava on Hawaii's Big Island has resumed its slow march through forest lands toward residential communities in its path, sending up heavy smoke as it burns trees, officials said on Monday.
The lava flow, which first bubbled out of the continuously erupting Kilauea Volcano on June 27, had come to a standstill in late September, but resumed its slow crawl forward last week and has since covered about 450 yards, a Hawaii County spokesman said.
The leading edge of the lava flow is about a mile from the outskirts of Pahoa village, a historic former sugar plantation consisting of small shops and homes with a population of about 800 people, the spokesman said.
It was also about 2 miles from Highway 130, a major bypass road for the area that is traveled by as many as 10,000 automobiles a day. About 4,000 people overall live in the residential communities that the lava is approaching.
The lava flow initially prompted voluntary evacuations among many residents of the Kaohe Homestead subdivision as it moved steadily through a forested area toward their homes. It then cut through vacant areas in the homestead last month as it veered toward the much larger town of Pahoa.
Officials have said that thousands of people in the Puna district where the lava is flowing could be isolated and forced to take congested gravel roads if the flow blocks Highway 130.
The leading edge of the lava flow is about 40 yards wide, and authorities and local residents are preparing for the possibility it could destroy homes in its path. But because of recent rains, the lava was not expected to spark a wildfire.
The lava flow has advanced about 150 yards since Sunday, but does not pose an immediate danger to local communities and no evacuations have been ordered, the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency said in a statement.
Insurance companies are no longer selling policies to protect homeowners from lava in the area, since the threat is so immediate, the county spokesman said.
The Kilauea Volcano has erupted from its Pu’u O’o vent since 1983. The last home destroyed by lava on the Big Island was in the Royal Gardens subdivision in Kalapana in 2012, according to the Civil Defense agency.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)