VOLCANO, Hawaii -- Kilauea volcano erupted into life on the island of Hawaii early today with a three-mile-wide curtain of fire and lava shooting 160 feet high.
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokesman Reggie Okamura said the eruption began at 12:31 a.m. HST about 10 miles from the observatory along the isolated East Rift Zone of the volcano.
Okamura said the eruption posed no threat to life or property because the area is about three miles from the nearest road, which was closed as a safety precaution.
At 5 a.m., lava was pouring from a line of fissures beginning at tiny Napau crater and stretching to the eastern boundary of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
With eruptive activity still building, molten rock was flowing south from three main vents, one of which has covered half of Napau crater. Almost a mile to the east, another vent had opened.
A short distance away, a three-mile curtain of fire was shooting lava as high as 160 feet into the air.
Kilauea last erupted Sept. 25, 1982, for about 15 hours. The volcano is 4,000 feet above sea level on the eastern flank of the 13,600-foot Mauna Loa, the other active volcano on the island of Hawaii.
Kilauea began its first eruption of 1983 almost exactly 24 hours after it began to stir early Sunday morning. Observatory scientists issued a volcano alert at 1 a.m., reporting that lava was moving underground from the volcano's summit into the rift zone.
The draining of molten rock from beneath the summit of the volcano caused the summit to drop by one to two centimeters. The underground movement of the lava also generated swarms of small earthquakes and more gradual 'harmonic' tremors throughout the day.
Hawaiian Volcanoes national park spokesman Jon Erickson said the entire East Rift Zone has been closed to the public.
Although volcanic eruptions in Hawaii provide spectacular shows, they are known to have caused deaths only twice in recorded history. In 1790, about 400 people, including a Hawaiian general and his army, were killed by heat and gases from a Kilauea eruption. In 1924, one person was killed during another eruption of the volcano.