The goddess of fire is alive and well on Hawaii’s Big Island, where two of the most famous volcanoes in the world are erupting at the same time.
An auspicious and spiritual tone has struck the island as the glow of the lava oozing from Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world, and Kilauea, one of the most active volcanos in the world, ignites the landscape of Hawaii’s Big Island, a sign that Pele, the Polynesian goddess of fire, is blessing the land, experts told ABC News.
“She’s quite an elemental force,” Jessica Ferracane, public affairs specialist for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, told ABC News.
Locals and tourists alike have been flocking to the best spots on the island to take in the views of the red-hot magma slowly bubbling from the crater of the volcanoes, including along Daniel K. Inouye Highway — known colloquially as Saddle Road — the main route people use to commute from east to west on the island, and the famed Hawaii Volcanos National Park, where visitors can see the simultaneous eruptions from some areas, Ferracane said.
“Some people come to the park not realizing they’re [coming] through eruptions happening,” Ferracane. “And then when they discover that it’s a pretty special experience.”
The excitement on the island is palpable and it’s bringing people together, especially since Mauna Loa has not erupted since 1984, Elizabeth Fien, president and CEO of Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, told ABC News. This is the time of year when Kilauea is most active, so the tourists who had planned around that regular event received an unexpected treat of the Mauna Loa eruption as well, Ferracane said.
One of the reasons why the double eruption is so unique is because the volcanoes are fed by different magma or “plumbing” systems, and neither eruption is sparked by the other, Ferracane added.
Ferracane, who has lived in Hawaii her whole life, can’t help but marvel at the natural wonders, describing the active eruptions as “sacred.” The actual lava flows are considered to be manifestations of Pele, which is a “special thing to see and experience,” she said.
“It’s hard not to be overcome with emotion, just because of the raw physical beauty of seeing a volcanic eruption glow in the dark sky,” she said. “Hawaiian volcanic activity is a sacred experience for many people, for many native Hawaiians, it’s really something to behold.”
The park has had “steady” visitation lately, but the “real drama” is happening outside the park, where the lava from Mauna Loa is slowly creeping downslope toward the highway, Ferracane said.
The island is more crowded than usual and abuzz with activity the closer the lava gets to the crucial roadway. The majority of hotels in Hilo are fully booked, according to local reports. Traffic is building on Saddle Road, which typically does not experience backups, Fien said.
“We’re not used to traffic jams,” Fien said.
As of Tuesday night, the lava was just 1.8 miles away from the highway and traveling downslope at 68 feet per hour, according to the USGS.
Last week, officials from the Hawaii County Civil Defense expressed concern about the “thousands of residents and visitors” who continue to flock to the highway to view the eruptions, which are exacerbating the safety hazards. Hawaii Gov. David Ige activated the National Guard to assist with traffic control and other roles in response to the Mauna Loa eruption.
“It’s a safety issue from having viewers on the road pulling over and doing U-turns in the middle of a 60 mph highway,” Fien said.
People also have to be aware of the hazards that are not directly related with the lava, such as volcanic gases and sulfur dioxide, Ferracane. The lava itself is a driving hazard, as the captivating sight causes people to regularly take their eyes off the road.
But the fact that these eruptions are currently not threatening any residences makes them easier to enjoy, Ferracane said. But not everyone, especially those who have lost their homes to lava flows, shares the excitement about the eruptions.
A lake of lava has been forming inside the summit crater of Kilauea since September 2021 and Kilauea has been erupting consistently ever since, Ferracane said. But in 2018, about 700 homes were destroyed during a particularly devastating eruption at Kilauea, which caused the entire summit to collapse into a crater quadruple its size and closed the park for 134 days, Ferracane said.
“It had a very traumatic impact on many people in our community,” Ferracane said.