Hawaii's Kilauea volcano: Power plant wells plugged, blue flames in suburban street

Dean Simpson
May 24, 2018

Blue flames from burning methane have become part of the eruption of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

Intermittent explosions of ash from the summit, believed to be driven by underground bursts of steam deep inside the throat of the crater vent, are occurring about twice a day, with smaller blasts in between, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) vulcanologist Wendy Stovall told reporters.

It knocked him backward on the third-floor porch of his neighbour's home on the eastern end of the Big Island, where most people had evacuated amid three weeks of heightened volcanic activity on Kilauea.

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has been a hotbed of explosive activitysince early May, gushing lava and toxic gases that have destroyed more than 25 homes and forced thousands of area residents to flee. A metal cap has been added on top as an additional measure.

Puna Geothermal, owned by Nevada's Ormat Technologies, was shut down shortly after Kilauea began spewing lava on May 3. The plant harnesses heat and steam from the earth's core to spin turbines to generate power. Earlier this month they removed a flammable gas called pentane from the plant to reduce the chance of explosions.

The plant has capacity to produce 38 megawatts of electricity, providing roughly one-quarter of the Big Island's daily energy demand. However, officials say a geothermal plant's wells were plugged so toxic gases won't get out.

The Hawaii County Civil Defense agency warned in its latest bulletin that residents downwind of Kilauea should take care to avoid exposure to ash, which can cause eye irritation and breathing difficulties, particularly in people with respiratory problems. Officials, however, have not discussed specific scenarios that would lead to such an emergency.

The methane can seep through cracks several feet away from the lava.

A Hawaii island man injured by what officials called a lava bomb spoke from his hospital bed Tuesday.

"It hit and it set me on fire and it basically snapped my leg in half about right above the ankle", Clinton said as if he were discussing the weather.

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