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It’s safety first for park rangers

August 13, 2017 - 12:05am

From falls off bikes, to ankles twisted on lava rock, numerous injuries — mostly minor — near the popular lava ocean entry have kept Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers busy the past year.

In an email last month, park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said rangers have responded to about 200 medical issues since the new year at or near Kamokuna, where lava has been regularly flowing into the sea since July 2016. Data provided by the park showed an additional 106 medical responses during the last half of last year.

“Most of them are falls with abrasions from hardened lava (which is sharp like glass), bicycle accidents and a few heat-related illnesses,” she said.

That’s despite many seeking to get as close to the lava as possible.

Since Jan. 1, the park has issued 116 citations to visitors entering a closed area around the ocean entry.

John Broward, park chief ranger, said the cost of the citation is $130, including an administrative fee.

“Safety-wise, our biggest concern is people going into the closed area,” he said. “But, what’s more than that, is people going into the closed area and climbing down into the delta or come in from the ocean and climbing on the lava delta.” The delta, made of rock formed by lava contacting water, is prone to collapse.

Broward said he was shown video posted online of one person even jumping into the water where lava is flowing into the sea.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” he said. “It’s just sort of one of those things I don’t have a lot of control over.”

Luckily, no one has fallen onto molten rock, Broward said.

Overall, he said there are fewer issues than during some of the past lava flows in the area, partly because the county rebuilt the coastal road as an emergency route. That has made it easier and safer for people to see the flow.

Broward said the park received an extra $151,000 in its current budget to pay for additional staff to ensure safety.

He said the park recommends visitors hiking to the lava flow bring at least 3 liters of water per person and good footwear.

The park’s safety video can be seen on YouTube at Type “lava safe tips” in the search field.


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