First Home Falls

Lava reaches a home off Cemetery Road in Pahoa on Monday morning. Photo courtesy of Ena Media Hawaii.

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Lava bursts forth after more than a week of little activity

Staff Writer
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

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 the Tribune-Herald 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.

In this still image taken from a County of Hawaii video, the June 27 lava flow burns a home Monday in Pahoa. Video courtesy County of Hawaii.

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 dur- ing 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 the Tribune-Herald 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 Pu‘u ‘O‘o 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 Pu‘u ‘O‘o-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.

County property records show 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, accord- ing to records. Lava was about

2 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 reestablish access over areas where lava has severed roadways.

Displaced children start school at temp site

Staff Writer
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Pahoa-area students impacted by the ongoing lava flow reported for the first time Monday morning to their temporary classrooms at the Keonepoko North campus. 

A slow-moving line of cars and school buses filed through a one-way entrance on the campus, dropping off students at the same spot as high school students reporting to Keaau High. Some of the older students helped to get the keiki situated in their new surroundings, while some were escorted by their parents who came to have a look at the improvised temporary campus, according to Department of Education spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz. 

“Overall, I think everyone was patient. … There was such a community aspect to this, from the student level,” she said. “Some of the teens were helping some of the younger students, making sure they knew where they were supposed to be.” 

The new facility, which consists of 11 portable classrooms split into 22 rooms and sits on a park- ing lot of Keaau High School’s campus, was expected to welcome about 300 students from Keonepoko Elementary and 150 from Pahoa Elementary. The students are those who live north of the area where the lava is expected to cross Highway 130, which would effectively cut them off from or seriously impede their access to Keonepoko and Pahoa. 

Keonepoko North Principal Brandon Gallagher (in blue shirt) helps students and staff get settled in on the first day of class at the new campus. Photo courtesy the Hawaii Department of Education.

On Friday, similarly impacted students from Pahoa High & Intermediate, Keonepoko Elementary and Pahoa Elementary reported to their new campuses at Keaau High and Keaau Middle. 

Meanwhile, the students who continue to attend Keaau High and Middle, Pahoa High & Intermediate and Pahoa Elementary also returned to class after the campuses were closed Oct. 30 to allow staff to prepare for the transitions. 

The transition and the first day went surprisingly smoothly considering the scope of the changes for both students and staff, according to Principal Brandon Gallagher. 

“From the dropoff first thing in the morning to the pickup just now, to beginning the after-school programs, we’ve seen very, very minimal issues,” he said. 

Two students got onto the wrong buses in the morning, but other than that, parents seemed to have been well notified about the changes and how it would affect their kids. 

“I was pleasantly surprised, because I was a little nervous about how it would go today,” Gallagher said. 

A total of 20 of the rooms are used for instruction, and they experienced few problems Monday, he said, with a few requiring hookups of electric sockets and other minor last- minute adjustments. 

Perhaps the biggest hardship was experienced by administrators when they held a meeting with state and complex area personnel and were forced to sit on small elementary school furniture set up in a makeshift courtyard at the center of the campus. 

“That was our only major hiccup for the day,” Gallagher said with a laugh.

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