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The Lava Dwellers, Big Island, Hawaii

They come for the privacy, the views, the Pele energy and the rock-bottom real estate prices. Never mind that the volcano could torch their homes at any time.


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A neighborhood on the rocks: The new Kalapana Gardens is emerging directly above the old Kalapana Gardens, which was buried beneath 40 to 60 feet of lava in 1990. Most of the new homes have been constructed without building permits.

The east flank of Kilauea volcano is a land of fire, sulfur dioxide and rock that cuts like glass. This is Pele’s realm, where the molten core of the planet spills through a slit in the crust, advancing and retreating across the surface in utterly unpredictable ways. It is either the end of the earth or the beginning of creation, depending on how you look at it. Either way, it’s no place for a subdivision. Yet, there it is, Kalapana Gardens, a neighborhood of more than 30 homes spread out across the barren flow field at the end of Kaimu-Chain of Craters Road, where the asphalt melted beneath the lava in 2011. Pele has already burned three houses to the ground, then covered that ground with even newer ground. But new homes keep popping up.

Who is building out here? Why would anyone want to live on the flow field of one of the most active volcanos on Earth? Are these people nuts? To find out, we trek onto the pahoehoe to meet some of the lava dwellers.


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