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Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano continues to gush fountains of lava, produce ‘eerie’ blue flames

Aerial video shows lava shooting 160 feet into the air from Hawaii fissure
WATCH: Aerial video shows lava shooting 160 feet into the air from Hawaii fissure

HONOLULU – Scientists in Hawaii have captured rare images of blue flames burning from cracks in the pavement as the Kilauea volcano gushes fountains of lava in the background, offering insight into a new dimension in the volcano’s weeks-long eruption.

Volcanos produce methane when hot lava buries and burns plants and trees. The gas flows through the ground and up through existing cracks.

“It’s very dramatic. It’s very eerie,” Jim Kauahikaua, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, told reporters.

This photo from video from the U.S. Geological Survey shows blue burning flames of methane gas erupting through cracks on Kahukai Street in the Leilani Estates neighborhood of Pahoa on the island of Hawaii during the overnight hours of Wednesday, May 23, 2018. When lava buries plants and shrubs, methane gas is produced as a byproduct of burning vegetation. Methane gas can seep into subsurface voids and explode when heated, emerging from cracks in the ground several feet away from the lava.
This photo from video from the U.S. Geological Survey shows blue burning flames of methane gas erupting through cracks on Kahukai Street in the Leilani Estates neighborhood of Pahoa on the island of Hawaii during the overnight hours of Wednesday, May 23, 2018. When lava buries plants and shrubs, methane gas is produced as a byproduct of burning vegetation. Methane gas can seep into subsurface voids and explode when heated, emerging from cracks in the ground several feet away from the lava. U.S. Geological Survey via AP

He said it was only the second time he’s ever seen blue flames during an eruption.

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The methane can seep through cracks several feet away from the lava. It can also cause explosions when it’s ignited while trapped underground. These blasts can toss blocks several feet away, said Wendy Stovall, also a scientist at the Geological Survey.

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

READ MORE: Hawaii plugs geothermal plant’s wells to prevent toxic gas leak as lava from Kilauea volcano nears

The volcano has opened more than 20 vents in the ground that have released lava, sulfur dioxide and steam. The lava has been pouring down the flank of the volcano and into the ocean miles away.

The eruption has destroyed 50 buildings, including about two dozen homes. One person was seriously injured after being hit by a flying piece of lava.

Stovall said lava spatter from one vent was forming a wall that was helping protect a nearby geothermal plant.

Lava from that vent was shooting further into the air and producing the highest lava wall of all the vents, which was blocking molten rock from flowing north toward the plant.

Officials shut down Puna Geothermal shortly after the eruption began.

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WATCH: Aerial footage shot from a USGS helicopter showed lava shooting 160 feet into the air from a fissure near the Kilauea volcano

Aerial video shows lava shooting 160 feet into the air from Hawaii fissure
Aerial video shows lava shooting 160 feet into the air from Hawaii fissure

On Tuesday, officials finished stabilizing wells that bring up hot liquid and steam to feed a turbine generator. A team from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the company continued Wednesday to plug the wells to make sure the fluid inside doesn’t move from one part of the well to the other, said Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for Hawaii County.

Earlier this month officials removed a flammable gas called pentane from the plant to reduce the chance of explosions.

READ MORE: Hawaii officials warn of danger of ‘laze’ as Kilauea volcano lava reaches Pacific Ocean

Tourism officials cheered news that a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship that tours the Hawaiian Islands would resume stopping in Kailua-Kona next week. Businesses catering to tourists on the cruise have been hurt since the company suspended Big Island port visits after the eruption began.

The company said it would resume calling on Hilo, a town on the eastern side of the island closer to the lava, when conditions allow.