HILO, Hawaii (AP) — The Federal Aviation Administration is restricting airspace above a lava flow on Hawaii's Big Island because of an increasing number of people wanting to view it from the sky.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said his agency worked with the FAA to impose the new rules because of helicopter tours and media trying to get a look at the slow-moving lava. Increased air traffic can be dangerous for people on the ground bracing for the lava to reach roads and neighborhoods, Oliveira said.
No evacuations have been ordered, but officials want the area as clear as possible in the event evacuations become necessary.
"We've been seeing a lot of congestion, a lot of activity, over the lava flow," Oliveira said. "Multiple times, we see fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in the same area."
The restricted airspace is from the surface to 4,000 feet within a two-mile radius of the volcano, according to the FAA. Only pilots involved in relief operations can fly in that area.
Commercial aircraft are not affected because they do not fly at that low of an altitude in the area.
Lava could reach the town of Pahoa in about 16 days, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Monday. Scientists said the molten rock has been moving nearly 400 feet daily since Friday.
"It is consistently moving downslope along the path of steepest descent," said Steve Brantley, the observatory's acting scientist in charge.
The flow emerged from a vent on Kilauea volcano's Puu Oo crater in late June. The lava sparked a brush fire that burned about 150 acres Monday.
Brantley said no new figures on the rate at which the lava is moving through the lava tube system are available "because winds were blowing fumes right over the lava tube where we take the measurements, and it was not a good place for our geologists to be," the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://ow.ly/Coh5Z ).
The civil defense agency said in an update Tuesday that smoke conditions in the area were "moderate to heavy" and were expected to improve as winds picked up through the day.
Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/