PAHOA, Hawaii (REUTERS) - A slow-moving river of molten lava from an erupting volcano crept over residential and farm property on Hawaii's Big Island on Wednesday after incinerating an outbuilding as it threatened dozens of homes at the edge of a former plantation town.
The lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has been slogging toward the village of Pahoa for weeks as it bubbled over a cemetery and reached the community's outskirts.
As of late Wednesday morning, authorities reported the lava had advanced to within 230 metres of Pahoa Village Road, the main street through the town of about 800 people built on the site of an old sugar plantation.
Pahoa's commercial district lies mostly to the south of the area in greatest danger, and most homes and businesses are believed to be out of harm's way, based on the lava's current trajectory, civil defense chief Darryl Oliveira said.
But residents of about 50 dwellings in what civil defence officials called a "corridor of risk" have been urged to be prepared to leave, and many have been slowly emptying their homes of furniture and belongings.
No mandatory evacuations have been ordered.
Besides anxiety, some residents, like Aaron Milewski, voiced resignation about the forces of nature they faced. "This energy is coming from the centre of the Earth, so you have to respect it," he said.
Molten rock topping temperatures of 900 deg C engulfed a storage shed on Tuesday but bypassed a rental house that was already evacuated, Oliveira said.
A slower-moving, narrower finger of lava then branched out off the main flow and oozed back toward the abandoned home, crawling to within 30 metres of it on Wednesday, Oliveira said. It remained to be seen whether the house would be spared.
The main lava front continued to creep over adjacent farm property, taking aim at a warehouse and home. Another property owner built a tall berm of soil and rock hoping to divert the approaching lava around his house.
The flow is expected eventually to reach the ocean, still 10 km away, authorities said.
Kilauea has erupted continuously from its Pu'u O'o vent since 1983, with its latest lava flow beginning on June 27. The last home destroyed by lava on the Big Island was at the Royal Gardens subdivision in Kalapana in 2012.