Lava ‘hunters’ risk lives to capture historic eruption on camera


Capturing the eruptions on film is serious business and there are several brave souls who have chosen to stay in Leilani Estates to document this historic event.

For those of us far from Leilani Estates on Hawaii Island the images photographers have shared are giving us a better appreciation and respect for the power of Pele.

Professional photographer Demian Barrios is at ground zero.

The significance of the moment is not lost on him.

He’s been filming volcanic eruptions for 20 years.

Documenting every explosion, spurt and pop of lava he can find.

The goal is to bring those far from the epicenter as close to the action as possible through his images and film.

One thing Barrios said is different about this eruption are the fumes its emitting.

“It’s a very potent gas so we’re making sure to take all the necessary precautions and staying up-wind and definitely using our respirator cause the gases are very noxious more so than normally found down at the lava flow,” Barrios said. 

He said it had a sharp odor.

“It doesn’t always smell like your traditional eggs, that smell like sulfur. It also has a very deep pungent smell, they almost have not so much a smell, but more a taste…like a very chemical almost metal taste.”

According to Barrios, the sound coming from the fissures was also distinct.

“It’s very, very loud, probably talking about 200 decibels. It’s like standing next to a jet engine,” Barrios said. “It seems that there’s a large amount of pressure from underneath the surface of the ground and this gas is coming out through the magma so its sporadic. It’s almost like its burping out of the ground.”

Barrios was in Leilani Estates filming when the 6.9 quake hit Friday afternoon. He said he could see the earth move.

“The ground shook so hard that you could see the cracks in the road and the two sides of the crack were flapping up-and-down like a blanket.”

He said he and his crew are taking safety precautions.

“There’s definitely a good amount of caution that goes into this,” explained Barrios. “We feel somewhat comfortable in the area and leaving ourselves in a safe place so that we can continue to document.”

Preserving this moment in history is his primary focus. 

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