Jean Olson stood outside her home which sits atop an active lava field in Kalapana, Hawaii. Recent Kilauea volcano activity sent lava oozing down the slope to the ocean about a mile from Olson's home.
No place like home
Neighbors of the volcano say they feel closer to the Earth
KALAPANA, Hawaii » As fiery lava pours down Kilauea volcano toward Jean Olson's lonely wooden house, incinerating everything in its path, there's no place she'd rather be.
"Why would I live here if I didn't like it? I have the best view of anyone in town," said Olson, who lives just over a mile from glowing lava flowing into the ocean. "Either she comes or she doesn't. If she comes, we'll pick up and leave."
Thousands of visitors a day come to nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to watch Kilauea erupt, something it has been doing for a quarter-century. But some residents live with the lava every day and revel in the notion that their homes and lives are subject to the whims of the Earth's underground forces.
Olson and her scattered neighbors have built houses atop hardened black crust where neighborhoods were destroyed by lava flows in 1990. Most get their power from solar panels, their water from the rain and some of their food from gardens planted between lava rocks. Until a new lava viewing area began drawing big crowds a few weeks ago, they lived in relative isolation.
Brenda Quihano sells flashlights, water and other supplies from a roadside stand to visitors hiking out on the lava field to see the current flow.
"This is heaven on Earth," said Edmund Orian, who is building a house by hand out of lava rocks in Kalapana. "Living near a volcano keeps you aware that God is in control. If the lava comes, we can always move."
Property atop lava rock that could be overrun again at any time doesn't sell for much, and no developer is going to spend much on infrastructure for a neighborhood that has disappeared before and will probably do so again.
Olson said she paid $3,000 for about 6 acres in 2000.
An estimated 8,500 people live in the Pahoa-Kalapana area at the volcano's base on the southeastern section of the Big Island.
In the 25 years of Kilauea's latest eruption, lava has not directly caused any deaths, according to National Park Service rangers, though there have been five fatalities when sightseers fell, got burned or suffered heart attacks.
Lava recently destroyed four old structures in the mostly abandoned Royal Gardens subdivision, though two residents there refuse to move out. The molten rock has cut off Royal Gardens from the rest of the island, and the neighborhood is now accessible only by motorcycle, all-terrain vehicle or helicopter.
Edmund Orian held a slab of volcanic rock demonstrating how he will build a home out of the lava rocks in Kalapana.
"It could come again and wipe this whole community out. Nobody knows," said Michael Silva, co-owner of Kalapana Village Cafe, whose business has increased by a third since the new viewing platform opened.
The current flow comes within 600 feet of the new viewing area.
It is difficult to forecast where the lava will go next or when the next major explosion will come, said Dave Wilson, a seismologist at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Significant activity would probably be preceded by hundreds of small earthquakes.
Brenda Quihano witnessed the volcano obliterate her family's home in 1984, but her family wants to move back if Kilauea ever calms down a bit. She now lives in the Hawaiian Beaches neighborhood about 15 miles away, and the approaching lava doesn't scare her.
"If you worry about something and it doesn't happen, you look like a fool," said Quihano as she sold water, flashlights and cameras to volcano viewers. "I'm more scared of people than I am a volcano."