PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's a mesmerizing sight: blue flames radiating from cracks in a road in Leilani Estates. But scientists warn that they could be dangerous and potentially deadly.
The U.S. Geological Survey posted a photo of the flames on Kahukai Street late Tuesday.
Scientists say it's a blue burning flame of methane gas, which is produced as a byproduct of burning vegetation. In this case, it's lava burning plants and shrubs.
When it's ignited, it emerges as a blue flame. If the gas becomes trapped, though, it could trigger explosions -- something scientists have seen before during previous eruptions in forested areas.
"Methane gas can seep into subsurface voids and explode when heated, or as shown in this image, emerge from cracks in the ground several feet away," the USGS wrote on its Facebook page.
This is the newest phenomenon to come to light since eruptions began at Kilauea's east rift zone nearly three weeks ago. Since then, more than 20 fissures have emerged, shooting lava hundreds of feet into the air, claiming at least 50 structures and forcing the evacuations of thousands of residents.
Several lava flows have also been produced, with some moving toward the ocean and others coming eerily close to the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, raising concerns that lava interacting with the wells could trigger an uncontrolled release of toxic gases.
The eruptions have also caused health hazards for nearby residents, and one of the biggest concerns of them all: air quality.
Closer to the Puna eruptions, sulfur dioxide levels are high, and authorities continue to warn nearby residents to be prepared to flee if conditions warrant. And at the summit of Kilauea, explosions continue to push out columns of ash, creating ashfall in downwind communities.