These 'eerie' blue flames just popped up in Hawaii

Sergio Conner
May 26, 2018

Hawaiian authorities scrambled Tuesday to protect a major power plant from approaching lava, in the latest threat from renewed eruption of the Big Island's Kilauea volcano nearly three weeks ago.

Methane gas from vegetation buried by lava burned blue as it erupted through cracks on Kahukai Street in Leilani Estates early Wednesday.

The methane can also explode when heated.

- Blue flames from burning methane have become part of the eruption of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

For a few weeks now, the U.S. Geological Survey has been warning of the risks of "vog", short for "volcanic smog", the hazy air pollution caused by noxious emissions like sulfur dioxide gas interacting with oxygen, sunlight and moisture in the atmosphere. Now blue has joined the mix: the blue flames of burning methane gas.

The lava is still "moving very vigorously", keeping Big Island residents on alert and away from the ocean.

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Hawaii County has ordered about 2,000 people to evacuate from Leilani Estates and surrounding neighborhoods from the Big Island since the eruption began.

Officials say almost 50 structures, including dozens of houses, have been destroyed since fissures began opening up in backyards on May 3. "That way, one day when all of this is over we can come home and bring our children home and they can see their house", she said. State and federal officials have been planning to reopen that route, which extends from Kalapana to the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, but construction has not yet begun on that project.

"This hot, corrosive gas mixture caused two deaths immediately adjacent to the coastal entry point in 2000, when seawater washed across recent and active lava flows", the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said. Later that night, the lava entered the ocean, producing spectacular - and deadly - plumes, and officials advised all people to avoid the area because of a new hazard: laze. One person suffered a leg injury after being struck by a "lava bomb".

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials said if lava interacts with the wells, it could release risky hydrogen sulfide gas. The fountains were feeding channelized lava flows down to the coast.

"It's probably going to do this for a little while longer", said US Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall on the conference call, describing the stage of the eruption as the "middle" or "kind of the steady state".

Laze is an acid steam formed when lava hits the ocean which has been likened to battery acid due to its high toxicity levels and can be lethal.

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