PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii County Civil Defense officials say heavy rain in the Pahoa area has helped reduce heavy smoke conditions created by the Puna lava flow burning through asphalt and vegetation that have been causing concerns about air quality and health hazards.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira says conditions have improved Friday as a result of cooling of the breakout that was advancing through the Pahoa Transfer Station, which is no longer progressing forward through the asphalt and is only burning through vegetation along the perimeter fence line.
However, officials say there is still a steady southerly wind blowing smoke in a north/northeast direction towards the Ainaloa, Hawaiian Paradise Park and Keau areas. They say residents down wind who may be sensitive or have respiratory problems are advised to take necessary precautions and to remain indoors, should the winds shift or smoke conditions increase. Officials say the weather service has forecasted continued south winds for the next few days, which also kicks up vog conditions from Pu'u 'O'o and Halema'uma'u.
Oliveira says air-quality monitoring stations set up by the Department of Health indicate particle assessments are testing within a "good air quality index range". There are three fixed stations: Pahoa High School, Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science and the Health Department's Leilani Estates sulfur dioxide monitoring station. However, officials say one concern is shifting winds often carry the smoke away from the fixed monitors, which is why Oliveira has requested funding from the County to purchase mobile monitoring devices. Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi just approved that request and Oliveira says he is coordinating with the Health Department to ensure they purchase equipment that will meet their index testing requirements.
Officials say they're closely monitoring lobes in the area of the cemetery below Apaa Street; above Apaa Street in the area west or upslope of the transfer station; and upslope of Apaa Street -- which is now about 200 yards away after advancing another 100 yards Friday. Officials say it's about 20 yards wide at its leading edge but widens further back.
Officials say the large, vigorous breakout above Apaa Street poses the most concern because of the speed at which it has advanced and the uncertainty of which direction it may take. USGS geologists with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say the lobe broke off the main flow field sometime between Friday and Saturday night is advancing north/northwest an average of 100-200 yards a day. It is now about
200 yards upslope of Apaa Street. HVO scientists say the next three to five days will be critical in determining what the margin of impact from the flow will be. Experts say it's unclear at this time whether the breakout will follow the same path of steepest descent as the stalled leading edge, which remains 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road, or if it will take a different path further north that could lead toward Malama Market -- or possibly go both ways.
According to officials, the breakout that claimed the first house Monday has only marginally moved forward, but is continuing to widen.
Hawaii County Civil Defense officials want to assure residents who live downslope of the projected path of the flow that although they went door-to-door in the Apaa Street and Pahoa Village Road area Wednesday night -- no evacuations have been ordered and no one is in any imminent danger. The face-to-face visits were intended to ensure residents are aware of the most recent lava activity at the Pahoa Transfer Station and upslope. They also want to clarify that no businesses in the area of Malama Market have been asked to evacuate.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira says the evacuation advisory for those residents down slope of the flow will continue and residents will be kept informed of the flow status and advancement.
Post Office Road is once again open to two-way traffic. However, Pahoa Village Road between Apaa Street and the Post Office Road will remain closed and limited to area residents only. Officials say access to the businesses and commercial areas of the Pahoa town can be made through the Pahoa Village Road at the intersection of Highways 130 and 132. Oliveira apologizes for any inconvenience the road closure may be experiencing and reminds everyone that the Pahoa town center and businesses are open and accessible.
In addition, Civil Defense, public safety personnel and Hawaii National Guard troops will be operating in the area round the clock to maintain close observations of flow activity.