Hawaii lava flow destroys 1st house in town of Pahoa

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.

Firefighters to let structures burn, but battle wildfires that spread

Emergency crews in Pahoa, Hawaii, are closely monitoring the lava flow, which has not moved in the past 11 days. Hawaii County Civil Defense officials are now monitoring the lava front for breakout fires that are happening around the affected areas. 2:00

After months of slowly making its way toward communities in a rural part of Hawaii's Big Island, it took an oozing stream of lava just 45 minutes to burn down an empty house.

Firefighters standing by to tackle any spreading wildfires let the flames consume the 1,100-square-foot structure Monday afternoon as a relative of the homeowner watched and recorded video of the destruction with an iPhone.

It was the first house burned down by a lava flow from Kilauea volcano that scientists have been warning the public about since August. And it likely won't be the last.

In this image from video provided by the County of Hawaii, lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano burns a residential structure on Monday, in Pahoa, Hawaii. (County of Hawaii/Associated Press)

The home's nearest neighbour is about a half-mile away, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said. A garage and barn structure near the destroyed home could also burn down soon, he said.

The lava 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.

The leading edge of the lava flow had bypassed the home, but it was a lobe of lava that broke out upslope and widened that reached the house. Where the lava will reach next, and when, is hard to predict.

The county estimates the value of the destroyed home at about $200,000 US, Oliveira said. The renters of the home left in August, he 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 150 metres from Pahoa Village Road on Monday, a 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."

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      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."