Lava is expected to slither past properties across the street from Jeff and Denise Lagrimas’ home on Hawaii’s Big Island as it works its way to the ocean.
But they are packing up to leave for a town 14 miles away, so they won’t know whether that prediction comes true or whether the molten rock oozes into their home instead.
“I don’t want to stick around and just wait for it to come and take it,” Denise Lagrimas said while taking a break from loading kitchen cups and bowls in cardboard boxes. “You just never know.”
The lava was about 370 yards from the main road in Pahoa, the commercial center of Puna, a sprawling, mostly agricultural district on the Big Island, civil defense officials in Hawaii County said late Tuesday.
The flow from Kilauea volcano entered private property next to the main road and was burning tires and other materials, prompting authorities to warn downwind residents with respiratory problems to stay indoors. The lavawas edging forward at a rate of about 10 to 15 yards per hour.
Earlier Tuesday, it burned down an empty shed.
The molten stream picked up speed last week after weeks of slow, stop-and-go movement. It broke out of forest and pastureland and crossed into inhabited areas for the first time since scientists began warning about lava in August.
Pahoa residents have had weeks to prepare for what’s been described as a slow-motion disaster. Most have either already left or are prepared to go.
At least 50 or 60 structures — including homes and businesses — are in an area that officials warn will likely be hit.
Josiah Hunt, who has farm in a part of Puna that was not immediately threatened, described smelling burning grass, feeling warmth from the lava and hearing “popping and sizzling and all the methane bursts that are happening in the distance … mixed with the birds chirping and the coqui frogs.”
With the flow threatening, the Lagrimas family decided to move to Kurtistown, a safe distance away.
“We didn’t want to go anywhere where it’s close enough where we would have to evacuate again,” Denise Lagrimas said.
They also worried the lava will block roads leading out of Pahoa and prevent them from commuting to their jobs in the coastal town of Hilo to the north. Then there was the prospect of subsequent flows gradually swallowing more of the community, which is what happened to the Royal Garden and Kalapana subdivisions in the 1980s and 1990s.
“It’s so surreal, it’s so surreal. Never in my wildest dreams as a kid growing up did I think I would be running from lava,” Denise Lagrimas said.
Some people want to watch the lava destroy their homes as a way to cope with the loss.
“You can only imagine the frustration as well as … despair they’re going through,” Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said.
Hunt watched last week as the lava crept toward Pahoa and spotted a woman whose house is near its path put a lei at the front of the flow.
“It helps a person come to grips with the reality of the situation,” he said. “I found it to be oddly comforting in a really strange way.”
Terri Mulroy, who runs Kumu Aina Farm with her husband, said the lava, while unnerving, has a cleansing quality to it because it keeps development on the lush Hawaiian island in check.
“If it wasn’t for the flow, I wouldn’t be able to live here,” she said. “This land would have been a golf course for the rich.”