A lava photographer finds a new role: Getting vital information to neighbors in need

When lava started shooting from the ground, photographer Demian Barrios was there. (Image: Demian Barrios)
When lava started shooting from the ground, photographer Demian Barrios was there. (Image: Demian Barrios)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Big Island photographer Demian Barrios has been taking stunning pictures of lava and posting them across social media for years.

And when the Kilauea eruption started in early May, he was one of the first photographers on the ground to document the devastation.

As fissures opened up in Leilani Estates, and lava began shooting into the air, Barrios was there with his camera, capturing as much as he could without compromising his safety.

His videos were some of the first to go viral, bringing him international attention.

Before long, video production companies started snatching his videos for themselves and putting the spectacular footage on YouTube. Angry, Barrios said he started adding a very noticeable watermark to most of his material.

"I didn't expect that at all. It kind of caught me by surprise, and it's been somewhat overwhelming," he said.

After several days embedded in Leilani Estates, the Kurtistown resident's focus shifted. He wasn't just documenting the eruption, but also helping those who have been evacuated because of it.

"The house is here, completely intact," he told one man through Instagram, with a video showing the property.

Soon, Barrios said, more and more people started asking him to check on their homes, too.

"It put a huge of sense of responsibility, a kuleana on me, to have that type of feedback of people requesting information made me realize that being there was bigger than just me," he said.

It also started taking a toll. After several days with very little sleep, exhaustion began to set in. Barrios left Leilani Estates to reconnect with his family.

"I was just going and going and going," he said, holding his 4-year old son during our interview. "This little guy here. ... He was really worried."

After taking a few days off, Barrios returned and started helping more evacuees.

The lava was now moving faster – and heading right for some of his friends' homes.

Those homes eventually burned. In more recent social media posts, Barrios is visibly upset, even though he knows the pattern could continue for months.

But he also knows, after the fissures quiet down and lava takes a less invasive path, the worldwide attention will also slow. The emotional ride during the eruption, from excitement in the first hours to sadness weeks later, will always be documented on social media.

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