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Lava Zones in Puna

It is important that you know about lava zones in Puna, when you want to buy property or a house there.

The Big Island of Hawaii is divided into 9 lava zones. Lava zone 1 stands for an area with the greatest hazard while lava zone 9 represents an area with the least hazard. There is only 3 different lava zones in Puna – Lava zones 1, 2 & 3.

The division of these areas is based on historic recordings of eruptions, scientific analysis of historic lava flows, geological examination and local oral tradition.

The Kilauea crater is the world’s youngest and one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Kilauea’s East rift zone is the source of most lava flows in Puna and is located in the eastern part of Puna.

What are the different lava zones in Puna?

Lava zone 1:

  • 25% of the area was covered with lava since 1800.
  • More than 65% of the area was covered in last 750 years.
  • East rift zone of Kilauea volcano, where vents have been repeatedly active in the past.

Lava zone 2:
  • 15-25% of the area was covered with lava since 1800.
  • More than 25-75% of the area was covered in last 750 years.
  • Areas southeast of east rift zone, because it is down hill of lava zone 1. The area north of the lower east rift zone (which includes Pahoa, Nanawale and Hawaiian Beaches etc.) is also classified as lava zone 2 because it is located downhill from the east rift zone.

Lava zone 3:
  • 1-5% of the area was covered with lava since 1800.
  • more than 15-75% of the area was covered in last 750 years.
  • Greater distance of these areas to vents and craters makes it less likely that these areas would be covered with lava in case of an eruption.

So which subdivisions are in which lava zones in Puna?

Lava zone 1: Leilani Estates, Kapoho

Lava zone 2: Black Sand Beach, Nanawale Estates, Hawaiian Beaches, Hawaiian Shores, Hawaiian Parks, Kehena, Puna Beach Palisades, Kalapana Seaview Estates, Kaimu-Makena Houselots. Pahoa is of course also in this lava zone.

Lava zone 3: Ainaloa, Tiki Gardens, Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaiian Acres, Fern Acres, Eden Roc Estates, Fern Forest Estates, Aloha Estates, Glenwood Estates, Ohia Estates, Mauna Loa Estates. Volcano is also in this zone.

How much of a problem is it to buy a property in lava zone 1 or 2?

It’s not an immediate problem but it could easily turn into one. I personally would not want to build my dream home on land that might be covered by a thick layer of hot lava in the near future. It’s hard (but not impossible) to find lenders that will give a home loan or mortgage in lava zone 1 and it is even harder to find a good home insurance policy for these areas. Lava zone 2 is a little better.

However, many residents in these areas don’t seem to worry. I guess they are not that attached to their house, because if lava comes, they could end up watching their home burn down. Even in lava zone 2 there always exists the potential for problems. Nanawale Estates for example is entirely built on a lava flow from an eruption in 1840.

If you have never been to the area near the volcano, all this talk about lava zones in Puna might sound a little scary to you. However, people have lived very happily in these areas for hundreds of years. You have to keep in mind that there are risks of natural hazards almost everywhere you go be it hurricanes, tornados, floods, landslides or whatever and this is not that much different even if it is a bit more ‘exotic’.

TIP: Some people say that it makes more sense to build post & pier houses in high risk lava zones in Puna, because the past has shown that these houses could be moved in case of an eruption.

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