As an on-again, off-again resident of the Big Island of Hawaii, Roseburg native Ryan Finlay is no stranger to the destruction caused by the Kilauea volcano.
But he has never seen anything like this.
“When the lava was flowing towards the town about four years ago, that was different. That was a lava flow that was about 14 miles up the mountain. I personally wasn’t concerned. In fact, I moved our family right in the path of it. It just kept stopping and restarting and eventually clogged up. This is different, what is going on now is pretty devastating,” Finlay said.
About 1,700 residents of the Leilani Estates subdivision were ordered to evacuate Tuesday after Kilauea began erupting last Thursday, destroying at least 36 structures, including 26 homes. Scientists report that lava from the volcano spewed more than 200 feet into the air.
Finlay, who graduated from Roseburg High School in 1999, returned to Douglas County to tend to his ailing father. In his absence, Finlay has opened his home to those who have been displaced by the eruption. His home is approximately 3 miles from the danger zone. He says his house is not currently in any danger.
“I have a picture taken from my backyard pointing straight towards the lava and you can see the big smoke cloud,” he said.
Finlay is the administrator of the Facebook group Hawaii Tracker, which boasts nearly 7,000 members. Finlay and two other administrators track lava flow and upload photos and videos, while allowing members to post updates and firsthand experiences. He started the group about four years ago, around the time when the lava moved down the mountain and stopped within 100 yards of the town of Pahoa.
“The videos and the images in there will just completely blow your mind,” Finlay said. "You see some clips on the news, but these are basically first hand accounts of guys running through the subdivision. It’s pretty unbelievable.”
Finlay says that scientists don’t know how long this will go or how wide its going to spread. They don’t know exactly what directions its going to go. He worries that if the lava swells on the surface, it may move farther into the town or into other subdivisions.
Because there’s no indication when the eruption might stop, or how far the lava might spread, the volcano has forced people living in and around the Leilana Estates subdivision to make tough decisions. There are 14 lava-producing fissures in Leilani Estates, after two new ones formed Tuesday. But the flow of lava is not constant.