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Arrests made at Hawaii volcano after visitors climb barriers to take photos

Penny Walker
Not be the safest spot for a selfie - This content is subject to copyright.

The Hawaiian government is being faced with a new menace when it comes to the ongoing eruption of Kilauea – people taking selfies.

A swathe of both tourists and locals have been arrested or cautioned in the last month after attempting to take selfies and photographs of the lava. Restricted zones were introduced to protect people from the dangerous flow after the volcano first erupted back in early May.

Kilauea volcano - Hawaii - locator map

Those caught beyond barriers and loitering in dangerous spots on Big Island now face jail time of up to one year, along with fines of up to $5,000 (£3,800).

To date, around 40 people have been arrested for scrambling over barriers, state officials told Fortune, with a dozen of those occurring in the last ten days. 

The first recorded eruption-related injury was reported May 20 when a man was injured by flying lava as he sat on his third floor balcony. Janet Snyder, a spokesperson for the Office of the Mayor, County of Hawaii, said that lava spatters “can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces of spatter can kill."

Closer proximity to the flow is incredibly dangerous. Not only has the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported visible "standing waves" flowing at speeds up to 17 mph (that’s faster than the average human can run), but it is also causing light ash fall and emitting noxious gases.

“Laze” are clouds of hydrochloric acid and steam laced with gas particles that form as the lava runs into the sea. "Even the wispy edges of it can cause skin and eye irritation and breathing difficulties," a spokesman for the US Geological Survey warned.

People with asthma or other respiratory conditions, as well as infants, the elderly and expectant mothers should check the monitoring authority at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park before travelling to certain areas.

At a glance | Laze

Hawaii’s emergency management agency has warned of "potentially lethal concentrations of sulphur dioxide gas" in the area surrounding Kilauea as well as methane blasts that could propel large rocks and debris in nearby areas, but warnings are going unheeded by those desperate to snap the action.

Hawaii's erupting Kilauea volcano, in pictures

Thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes and experts remain unsure of where more of the hazardous cracks might open up, or when the volcanic activity might stop, while the molten rock that has flowed into the sea has created a new coastline at Kapoho Bay.

With people ignoring the warnings and flaunting rules imposed for their own protection, Hawaii Governor David Ige has made a statement calling for stronger action from officials when it comes to monitoring restricted areas.

“I find there is a need to strengthen the enforcement tools available to county and state emergency management officials in controlling public access to dangerous areas and associated evacuation efforts as a result of the failure of the public to comply with instructions and orders issued by officials”, he said.

The worst places to take a selfie


However, there is no reason to cancel any holiday plans just yet, with only a small section of the area affected. Hawaii County Civil Defense has warned residents and visitors to avoid lower Puna, beneath Kilauea. Just don’t go on the hunt for that perfect lava selfie – even if it is World Selfie Day.