Noxious fumes force closure of road to Halemaumau
HILO » Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has temporarily banned access to the area of Halemaumau Crater at the summit of Kilauea volcano due to high levels of sulfur dioxide gas.
The ban started Tuesday. Park officials previously imposed a restriction that allowed cars and buses to drive through a 4-mile section of Crater Rim Drive passing Halemaumau as long as people did not get out of their car.
Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said she watched as an occasional car would ignore warning signs and stop. Once one did so, others would follow, she said.
The park cannot station a ranger at Halemaumau to prevent stopping because that would pose a threat to the ranger's health, she said.
Sulfur dioxide levels now range from a half to one part per million of the gas, although levels have gone as high as 10 parts per million. The half- per-million level is considered condition orange, while one per million is considered condition red, Orlando said.
Since conditions vary from orange to red and back every few minutes, the park decided to "err on the side of caution," Orlando said.
The gas can cause health problems for children, people with heart or lung conditions, and older people.
The park hosted 279,629 people in January, of which 29,400 arrived in 1,600 bus tours of various sizes.
Tours would normal include a stop at park headquarters, continuation to Jaggar Museum, then a loop around Halemaumau to Thurston lava tube. Only the Halemaumau part of that loop is affected by the gas, Orlando said.
Cars and buses will now go to Jaggar, then retrace their drive to go to Thurston instead of making the full loop.
"There's still a lot of the park to see," Orlando said.
The problems are being caused by a lack of tradewinds, which would normally carry the sulfur dioxide away.