Why Eerie Blue Flames Just Erupted from Hawaiian Volcano

Massive lava flow from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano

On the heels of toxic gas clouds, which formed over the weekend as lava spilled into the ocean, the blue flames raise ideas of a Hawaii on the verge of an apocalypse.

Photos published on Wednesday by the US Geological Survey show the flames spouting from cracks in the pavement in the Leilani Estates neighbourhood, which has been worst affected by the surges of lava. The phenomenon occurs when lava covers up vegetation and burns it, and methane is produced as a byproduct, the USGS also said.

Since the eruption began on May 3, Hawaii County has ordered about 2,000 people to evacuate from Leilani Estates and surrounding neighbourhoods.

The eruption opened up more than 20 vents in the ground releasing lava, sulfur dioxide and steam and sending plumes of ash miles into the sky.

At least 50 rural homes and other structures have been destroyed by lava from fissures in a small area of the Big Island.

A day later, Clinton fell victim himself - distracted by his cell phone for mere moments, when a bowling ball-sized lava bomb hit him in the leg while he was standing on the porch.

But by Wednesday, USGS officials said a wall of lava has been forming from the fissure nearest the plant, preventing molten rock from reaching the facility.

"I think the biggest worry for us is based on the geologic history of this volcano - is that the current fissure activity could actually become a bit larger", said geologist Steve Brantley from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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The blue flames were observed in cracks on Kahukai Street in the Leilani Estates Subdivision.

A spike in gas levels could prompt a mass evacuation, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno. Scientists say it can trigger explosions if ignited while trapped underground.

Workers at the closed Puna Geothermal Venture, which provided around 25 percent of electricity on Hawaii's Big Island, worked to cap the last of three pressurized wells to reduce the risk of an uncontrolled release of toxic gases should they be inundated by lava. The yard was littered every few feet with with fallen lava, but Clinton wasn't anxious about getting hit by the hunks of molten rock.

Down on the east flank of the volcano, six fissures re-erupted in lava fountains, as volcanic activity moved west toward Highway 130.

Puna Geothermal, owned by Nevada's Ormat Technologies, was shut down shortly after Kilauea began spewing lava on May 3.

Tourism authorities say summer bookings for hotels and tours on the Big Island have fallen nearly 50% for the months of May through July, and according to the National Park Service, the closure of the National Park alone costs the island $166m.

Ross Birch, Hawaii Island Visitor Bureau director, said cruise ships will return to Kona and Hilo in the next few weeks after canceling stops because of the volcano.

Hinkle, 46, said she's financially stressed but can't leave now.

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