VOLCANO, Hawaii (KHON2) — Lava has returned to Hawaii Island for the first time since 2018.

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Scientists say two fissures are currently feeding a new lava lake within the crater, creating a big plume of smoke and a bright orange glow that can be seen from Mauna Kea.

Officials say the lava lake has been rising several yards an hour since the eruption began and the perimeter of the lake is circling while the center remains still. The eruption is believed to be stabilized but it was a busy night and day for thousands of people who went to check out the glow.

At approximately 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20, Kilauea erupted, sending a plume of smoke into the atmosphere.

The National Weather Service Honolulu reported the eruption had reached heights of about 30,000 feet.

NWS issued several alerts that same night, including volcanic ash warnings, but dropped it once scientists confirmed the eruption was mostly gas and steam.

“As always, things can change with an active volcano, so we are very closely monitoring,” said USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist David Phillips. “But as of right now, activity seems to be only at the summit.”

Photographer Kyle Boyer lives about five miles from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park entrance. He said he drove up to the volcano once he heard it had erupted.

He was one of the first people to see lava returning to the island Sunday evening.

“What an amazing sight to see when we pulled up in there, and the whole sky was just bright red,” the photographer said. “Pele has returned.”

Boyer says there were about five cars in the parking lot when he arrived Sunday evening. By the time he left around midnight, there were hundreds more in the parking lot.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open to the public, but officials want to remind visitors to follow social distancing guidelines, wear a mask and keep in mind that lava is not visible.

“You’re not really seeing the lava itself,” explained HVNP spokesperson Jessica Ferracane. “You’re seeing the glow, just cased up on the night sky on the clouds.”

“There was a lot of crowding happening last night at places like Kilauea overlook and about 50 percent of the people weren’t wearing masks,” she shared. “I think everybody’s caught up right now in the wondrous excitement of this new eruption, but they have to stay safe. We want to keep the park open. But if it becomes an unsafe environment up here, we might not be able to do that.”

Park officials are also reminding people to stay on marked trails and to avoid cliff edges and closed areas.

Nearby residents say there is always concern with living so close to an active volcano, but they’ve missed seeing the orange and red glow every night.

“I think, at this time, it seems like it’s pretty calm and mellow,” Boyer said. “I think we’re going to see this beautiful glow that we used to always see every night and hopefully we get to enjoy that glow again for years to come.”

USGS says the several earthquakes reported at Kilauea’s summit in late November and early December was an indication that something was about to happen.

“We were about to announce today that we were taking Kilauea up to a higher alert level,” Phillips said. “And the volcano decided to erupt first before we got that notice out.”

“As of right now, all the indications are that there is no immediate threat to life or property at this time,” he continued.

Kilauea’s current alert level is orange.

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