Problems with tourists — and even some residents — hanging out at deadly lava flows to take selfies and other photos have gotten so bad that Hawaiian authorities are cracking down.
About 40 people have been arrested since May 3 for loitering near lava flows, including a dozen in the last 10 days, Department of Land and Natural Resources officials told Hawaii News Now, a website operated by several Hawaii television stations..
The state recently raised the penalties for loitering near lava flows to a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail to try to curtail the problem, reported the stations.
Volcanic fissures connected to an eruption of Mt. Kilauea began opening May 3. Lava flowing from the fissures — and venting up to 230 feet in the air — has destroyed at least 500 homes and covered 6,000 acres, reported CNN.
A National Guard flight over Mt. Kilauea on Sunday revealed a new, 100-foot-wide river of lava moving about 15 mph to the ocean, where it’s producing huge clouds of vapor, reported The San Francisco Chronicle.
Some selfie-taking arrests have taken place in Lava Tree State Park, Paakikii, and Mackenzie State Recreation Area, reported Hawaii News Now. About three dozen took place before the penalties were boosted.
“I find there is a need to strengthen the enforcement tools available to county and state emergency management officials in controlling public access to dangerous areas and associated evacuation efforts as a result of the failure of the public to comply with instructions and orders issued by officials,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige told the stations.
Few people are killed directly by lava, despite its temperature of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, because it normally moves so slowly that most can get out of its way, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But death or injury can result when people approach too closely or are cut off from escape by branching flows.
Lava produces toxic gases including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and hydrofluoric acid, according to Earth Magazine. When it hits water, lava can produce clouds of hydrochloric acid.
“It looks like a pretty white steam cloud, but it’s not. It’s acid,” Travis Heggie, a former eruption duty ranger, told the publication.