More volcanic fissures open; Lanipuna Gardens told to evacuate

PAHOA ­— Two more volcanic fissures were confirmed in Leilani Estates Tuesday, with a possible third reported near several other vents.

After about a day of inactivity, the 13th fissure in the subdivision opened Tuesday afternoon, near the intersection of Leilani Avenue and Kahukai Street, near where the fifth fissure opened last week. Shortly thereafter, a 14th fissure opened between Kaupili and Hookupu Streets, not far from the site of the third fissure.

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At about 2 p.m., a third new fissure was reported, near the sites of fissures five and 13. However, it was unclear whether the new opening was a distinct 15th fissure.

Talmadge Magno, director of Hawaii County Civil Defense, said the possible 15th fissure was very near a “cluster” of fissures at the northeastern corner of the subdivision. Magno said it could not yet be determined whether the fissure was a continuation of the 13th fissure, a joining of two existing fissures, or a new fissure entirely.

Following the opening of the 13th and 14th vents Tuesday afternoon, Hawaii County Civil Defense ordered all residents to leave the Lanipuna Gardens area, citing “immediate danger.”

Magno said the combination of the new fissures and the direction of the wind posed significant dangers to Lanipuna Gardens, with dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.

The evacuation did not apply to Leilani Estates, Magno said. The western portion of the subdivision is, he said, largely safe from fumes for now.

At least one residence near the 13th fissure caught fire Tuesday afternoon. Magno said the number of confirmed structures destroyed is now 36.

No significant lava flow was reported from the new fissures, Magno said. For now, therefore, the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant is safe from lava.

PGV has been the source of much concern due to the presence of approximately 60,000 gallons of pentane at the facility.

Pentane, which is commonly vaporized and used to spin turbines at geothermal plants, thanks to its low boiling point, is extremely flammable, and its proximity to a potentially flowing mass of molten rock is worrisome to many on social media.

Magno said steps are being taken to remove the pentane from PGV within the coming days.

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Whether Leilani Estates or Lanipuna Gardens will be open to residents today will depend on current weather and volcanic conditions, Magno said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com