Burning Farms

One of the most poignant scenes we witnessed was the many farms destroyed by the lava

Flow Front
The front of the fissure 8 flow approaches Kapoho Bay
We took our helicopter ride Sunday morning, June 3rd. At this point the large flow from fissure 8 had not yet reached the neighborhoods at Kapoho. What the flow was burning through were the many papaya orchards and flower growers found above the bay.

Houses are bad enough, seeing the farms in front of the lava flow was worse. I found myself looking through the telephoto lens at the neat greenhouses, the orchards green in the morning sunlight. The wide flow front was in the process of destroying so many farms, remorselessly moving through the neat rows of papaya trees.

Orchid Plantation Inc.
The greenhouses of Orchid Plantation Inc. disappearing under the lava.
I am aware of how much a farmer puts into the land… Sweat, blood, heart and soul. I look at the photos and I see immaculate operations… Well maintained buildings, no weeds around the structures, the pitiless lava flow advancing. Each scene that appeared in the camera viewfinder was gut-wrenching.

The flight took us from Kapoho, up the flow to the source at fissure 8, and back down the flow to Kapoho before returning to Hilo. The fountain of lava at the fissure made it clear that this eruption was far from done, the supply of more flowing rock was not exausted, nothing was going to stop this lava flow short of the ocean. There would be no reprieve for the homes and farms out in front of the flow.

Burning Farm
A tropical flower farm on Kapoho Beach Road with lava advancing into the shade-cloth structure
Our flight was last weekend, since then the entire area has been covered. The farms we saw in front of the advancing lava are gone. Hundreds of homes lost in a single night, the magical bay and tide-pools at Kapoho are buried in rock.

The local news now reports that 80% of the papaya farms on the island have been destroyed. The industry was concentrated in the Kapoho area, drawn by the perfect growing conditions and rich, volcanic soil. I know folks who are lost without a papaya each morning, this island loves the fruit.

I know that the volcano is ultimately responsible for these places even existing, that lava is the source of creation in these islands. Still, the destruction is hard to see, the flood of black rock burns and destroys all in its path.

It will be generations before the land is again what it was before. It will take decades of tropical rain and tough pioneering plants to bring the forest and soil back. It will be decades before the farmers can return to this place.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

Leave a Reply