Kilauea: Hawai’i on Fire

This one-hour special follows the dramatic eruption of Hawai'i's Kilauea volcano in May 2018.

Title: Kilauea: Hawai’i on Fire

Released: 2019

Runtime: 1 x 60

Broadcaster: PBS Nova

In May 2018, the Kilauea volcano on Hawai’i’s Big Island erupted with extraordinary violence, forcing thousands local residents to flee. This one-hour special documents the dramatic eruption, meeting some of the residents, emergency personnel and scientists directly involved.

The film begins in April 2018 before the eruption starts.  Through interviews with scientists Dr Tina Neal & Dr Brian Shiro from the Hawaiian Volcanic Observatory the film follows the moment the alarm was triggered when lava lakes at the top of the mountain suddenly drained into the earth – and how scientists used earthquake triangulation to track the magma moving eastwards underground, until it stops under the neighbourhood of Leilani Estates.

Featuring extraordinary footage from the cellphones of residents the film reveals how over only 24 hours small cracks in the ground developed into lava spewing fissures – triggering a mass evacuation. Lava sampling conducted by a team led by Dr Cheryl Ganseki from the University of Hawaii Hilo reveals that the initial flows are from old lava, magma that has been lying beneath Leilani for 50 years, remnants from an earlier eruption.

With the eruption in full sing the film explores gas zones with Dr Sam Mitchell of the University of Hawaii, revealing how toxic sulphur dioxide released by the lava is forcing residents away, and witness how trapped gas is causing explosive eruptions, both at the fissure sites and at the volcano summit – provoking fears of a major explosive eruption from the top of the mountain. With the help of Dr Ryan Perroy from the University of Hawaii Hilo the film explores how, as the eruption increases in flow, drones become a crucial tool in plotting the lavas advance and in helping evacuate people to safety.

The story of the eruption is followed to its conclusion months later with the formation of a huge rocky delta in a violent confrontation with the Pacific Ocean. The film explores the rare geological hotspot that gives rise to the active volcanos of Hawaii through interviews with Dr Rick Hazlett from the University of Hawaii Hilo and breath-taking CGI reconstruction of underground lava tubes. An extraordinary sequence takes viewers under the Pacific Ocean with an ROV from the USS Nautilus exploration vessel to witness a new volcano, Lo’ihi being born.

This is a science documentary about the most awesome eruption to hit the USA for a generation.  But it is grounded in the emotional experience of those most affected. Threaded through are interviews with affected residents who bring their human perspective to this awesome spectacle.