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NPS busts ‘sneaking’ lava tour

Updated: 
March 9, 2017 - 12:49pm

HILO — National Park Service officials are again pleading with visitors to heed safety warnings.

Lava and volcanic activity are powerful draws, and people want to have a once-in-lifetime experience, said spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane.

But, she said, “we don’t want that experience to be the last one that they ever have.”

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park officers, in cooperation with other agencies, have stepped up efforts to intercede when tour guides and individuals make illegal forays to the crater, to the ocean lava entry and elsewhere.

Just after midnight Tuesday, NPS officers caught a group of 14 “sneaking into the closed area at Halema‘uma‘u, the erupting summit crater of Kilauea volcano.”

A 44-year-old tour guide “affiliated with the French tour company Adventure et Volcans” learned he will face a mandatory court appearance, a potential $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

The 13 tourists he allegedly led illegally into the closed area of the Kilauea summit crater in the national park were each issued a “closure citation” for $100 — and a $30 processing fee.

Chief Ranger John Broward called the scenario a “serious violation” and said areas around the crater are closed for good reason — extremely hazardous volcanic conditions.

They include “high concentrations of toxic gases and particulates, ongoing volcanic explosions and frequent collapses of the crater walls.”

“We’ve seen an uptick in citations during this last eruptive phase,” Ferracane said, attributing the reason to lava’s strong pull upon the human psyche.

But she said toxic gases, hurled rocks, explosions and splatter can cause risk, which is why rangers specify which areas are safe for park visitors and which aren’t.

On New Year’s Eve, a large section of delta broke away and fell into the ocean at the area where lava has been pouring into the ocean.

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