Slow-moving lava sets house ablaze in Hawaii town

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2014 10:41 PM
Slow-moving lava sets house ablaze in Hawaii town

HONOLULU (AP) — A stream of lava set a home on fire Monday in a rural Hawaii town that has been watching the slow-moving flow approach for months.

The molten rock hit the house just before noon, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira. The home's renters already had left the residence in Pahoa, the largest town in Big Island's isolated and mostly agricultural Puna district.

It took about 45 minutes for the 1,100-square-foot home to burn down, Oliveira said.

"The house has been destroyed," he said.

Earlier in the day, lava burned down a small corrugated steel storage shed on the property, Oliveira said. A garage or barn structure still remained on the property, but it was possible that the lava would also consume it.

The home's nearest neighbor is about a half-mile away, Oliveira said.

The lava from Kilauea volcano emerged from a vent in June and entered Pahoa Oct. 26, when it crossed a country road at the edge of town. Since then, it has smothered part of a cemetery and burned down a garden shed. It also burned tires, some metal materials and mostly vegetation in its path.

Firefighters will basically let a structure burn, but they will fight any wildfires that spread or threaten other structures, Oliveira said.

A relative of the home's owners, who live on the mainland, arrived at the site to watch the house burn, officials said. That family member drove from another part of the island about two hours away and used an iPhone to take video of the house burning.

The county estimates the value of the home at about $200,000, Oliveira said.

Oliveira said officials would make arrangements for homeowners to watch any homes burn as a means of closure and to document the destruction for insurance purposes.

The leading edge of the molten rock had stalled Oct. 30, but lava was breaking away at several spots upslope. The leading edge remained about 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road, the main street that goes through downtown.

Crews have been working on alternate routes to be used when lava hits Highway 130, considered a lifeline for the Puna district.

Many residents have evacuated or are ready to leave if necessary.

Imelda Raras lives on the other end of Apaa Street from where the lava burned its first house. She and her family have put a lot of their belongings in storage and are prepared to go to a friend's home if the lava gets close.

"I'm scared right now," she said as she watched smoke from the burning house. "What will happen next? We will be waiting."

The homeowner of the house that burned had arranged weeks ago to relocate horses and other animals, Raras said.

Raras said she's thinking about the mounting storage costs.

"I think our lives will be unstable," she said. "I hope our house will be spared."

The family is ready to go, but Raras said they will do so with heavy hearts. "Because it's hard to leave your own house," she said. "It's one of the hardest things to do."

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Associated Press Writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.

Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .