Lava destroys first home in Pahoa

PAHOA — The destruction of her grandparents’ house Monday brought the reality of the June 27 lava flow home for Kanoe Pelfrey.


PAHOA — The destruction of her grandparents’ house Monday brought the reality of the June 27 lava flow home for Kanoe Pelfrey.

“When you see pictures and video of it, it just really hits you,” said Pelfrey, 20, who spoke to Stephens Media Hawaii from Oregon, where she attends college.

She said her grandparents, Mary Kanoe Pelfrey and Woodrow Pelfrey, owned the home, which sits on 45 acres of mostly pastureland, until their death when she was 4 years old. The property is now held in a family trust.

Lava had already crossed the property off Cemetery Road late last month, but a breakout upslope made another path across the pavement Sunday and slowly closed in on the 1,152-square-foot residence — the first destroyed by the flow — as the lobe widened.

The home ignited shortly before noon Monday as lava crept under the house, which sat on a wooden pier foundation.

By 12:45 p.m., the home was destroyed, Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, told reporters.

Pelfrey said she grew up in Kona and had spent some time at the house as a child.

“A lot of my cousins spent time there, and especially my sisters. It’s hitting my sisters pretty hard right now,” she said. “It’s so weird to think that Kilauea has taken (the home) over now.”

Pelfrey said that as she watched the news develop during the day, she was inspired to try to track down the people who had rented the home from the family trust. She intends to offer her help with relocating families impacted by the lava, including possibly organizing charities on the mainland.

The house was most recently occupied by John Byrd and his family, who relocated to the Kalapana area before the flow reached Pahoa.

Byrd, who could not be reached for comment Monday, previously said he raised livestock on much of the land. The animals were also relocated, he said.

He told Stephens Media Hawaii last month he had lived in the home for about eight years. Recalling how lava inundated Kalapana about 25 years ago, Byrd predicted how the flow would eventually destroy the house.

“It’s a slow crawl and then it happens as an overnight kind of thing,” he said.

That’s about what happened over the last few days in Pahoa.

After stalling for more than a week at its front 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road, and showing relatively weak activity along most of its 13.5-mile-long route, the June 27 flow burst forth Sunday morning from the new breakout about 82 yards mauka of Cemetery Road. More than 24 hours later, the house had fallen to the lobe’s intense heat.

Oliveira, a former county fire chief, said no attempts would be made to save the home or other structures that the lava contacts.

“We’ve been very open and clear that once the lava touches a home there is not to be any type of firefighting activity because that wouldn’t be effective and it would put firefighting personnel at risk,” he said.

The flow emerged June 27 from Puu Oo on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone.

In addition to being the first home destroyed by the flow, the house was also the first set ablaze by the ongoing 31-year Puu Oo-Kupaianaha eruption since lava destroyed the home of Jack Thompson in Royal Gardens in March 2012. The eruption has destroyed 215 structures since 1983, mostly homes, according to Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

According to county property records, the home is located at 15-1901 Cemetery Road.

The county assessed the property’s building value at $97,800. The property includes a detached garage in addition to the home, built in 1993, according to records. Lava was about two feet from the garage Monday morning, Oliveira said.

As of 3 p.m. Monday, the garage had yet to catch fire.

A small storage shed was also destroyed on the property that morning, Oliveira said.

The property surrounds the Pahoa cemetery, inundated by lava on Oct. 26.

Oliveira said members of the Pelfrey family were present at the property after the home caught fire. The county is allowing residents to watch their homes burn to help with closure and to document the event for insurance purposes.

On Friday, the state Department of Transportation began applying layers of crushed rock and cinder atop part of the flow covering Cemetery Road to see if the material could be used to re-establish a roadway over hardened, or mostly hardened, lava.

Such a solution could be tried on Highway 130 if the flow crosses it.

Oliveira said the most recent activity did not impact that test site, which DOT plans to access today.

Col. Bernard Warrington Jr., Pacific-East defense coordination officer for the U.S. Department of Defense, told reporters that steel planking could also be used to re-establish access over areas where lava has severed roadways.

Email Colin M. Stewart at and Tom Callis at

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