Lava rushes forward

Hawaii County officials are keeping a constant eye on the June 27 lava flow as it begins to reach the outskirts of Pahoa.

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Hawaii County officials are keeping a constant eye on the June 27 lava flow as it begins to reach the outskirts of Pahoa.

After weeks of sluggish advance, the flow gushed toward pastureland above the village and Civil Defense initiated the first road closure since access was restricted to Kaohe Homesteads more than a month ago.

Police are stopping vehicles just beyond the Pahoa transfer station where Apaa Street becomes Cemetery Road. The county also plans to relocate the waste facility to Kauhale Street in Pahoa on Saturday.

Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Thursday a mobile command center was being placed on Cemetery Road, and staff will keep a 24-hour watch on the flow’s progress.

No evacuation has been ordered, but the public should remain vigilant, he said.

“The community, one, needs to be prepared for what we have been anticipating all along, as well as stay informed …,” Oliveira said.

As the flow approaches Cemetery Road, it also will threaten power transmission lines for the first time.

Rhea Lee, Hawaii Electric Light Co. administrative manager, said the utility began installing thermal insulation around the base of three poles along the road Thursday.

The poles also will be protected by loose cinder, wire fencing and a large concrete dry well pipe. That work is expected to finish today.

The solution is experimental but it is hoped it will protect the poles from the lava’s intense heat.

“We don’t know if it’s going to work,” she said. “We are very hopeful that it will work.”

If it doesn’t, Lee said HELCO could increase the span between the poles. A second transmission line for the area is located in the Hawaiian Beaches and Shores community.

The flow was between 0.2 and 0.3 miles from Cemetery Road, 0.98 miles from Pahoa Village Road, and 1.3 miles from Highway 130 as of Thursday, Oliveira said.

The flow advanced 425 yards between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning and another 130 yards by Thursday afternoon, he said.

But officials are not estimating when lava could reach roads or homes since its rate of advance recently has been erratic.

The area is mostly ranch land, and residents of the few properties nearby have left.

Oliveira said the county would notify residents between three and five days before an evacuation order is issued.

It remains unclear when that could occur.

“Given the (situation) we had seen over the last few days … we’d like to see some stability before we start forecasting any timelines,” Oliveira said.

Forecasting the flow’s path, though, has been much easier since it continues to follow paths of steepest descent identified by Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, he said.

The flow could slow as it reaches Cemetery Road since the gully widens and reaches more flat terrain, Oliveira said.

Residents in the flow’s path have been preparing to evacuate for weeks or even months.

Kaohe Homesteads was the first community threatened by the flow but has so far been spared.

Forest Lantz, who lives in the rural subdivision, said some of his neighbors have left for good, while others such as himself have moved some of their belongings back after it appeared they were being spared.

“It sure has been a mind-screw, I’ll tell you,” he said, regarding the anxiety the flow has created.

In case the flow reaches Highway 130, the Fire Department plans to station fire trucks at the Pahoa Senior Center to continue serving the area.

To make room for the vehicles and a fence to protect them, the department has planned to remove several monkeypod trees on the property.

That angered some residents who say the trees should stay.

An attempt to remove them was blocked by protesters earlier this month.

On Thursday, Fire Chief Darren Rosario met with between 20 and 30 people who want to save the trees outside the senior center.

“We’re intelligent and creative people,” said a man who identified himself as Castle John. “We don’t have to sacrifice nature.”

Others said they saw removal of the trees as part of a larger assault on the environment.

Rosario said public safety remains his top priority but told the crowd he would consider pruning the trees to make room for the equipment. That appeared to satisfy many of those in attendance.

“This provides us with a central location where most of our call volume exists,” he said.

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In regard to finding another location, Rosario said, “That’s time we don’t have.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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