Monday, March 12, 2012

Updated March 15, 2012: Lava & Loss - Jack Thompson says goodbye to his Royal Gardens Homestead (+Video)


Below are the still images and story of this day:

(click on any image to open all images larger and as a set)

Mahalo Nua Loa to Paradise Helicopter management, staff and the pilots (Cal, Danny, Kalei, Macko and Joyce) who have been like a supportive ohana for Jack Thompson for some time. This has been particularly evident during Jack's challenging ordeal this past week with the massive lava flow that bore down into his Royal Gardens property - eventually decimating all that Jack had there. (Above: Jack spots his property) In one final gesture of their support, Paradise delivered Jack back to his land for his self-proclaimed last visit there, Saturday, March 10th, 2012.

Jack's property was "Nearly 100% entombed" as Jack said, while standing next to a fragment of his roof that flapped in the wind as it protruded from the still smoldering lava-covered mounds. He stood where his comfortable home, surrounding rock walls and gardens were only one week earlier.

As the photos show, parts of two lava-filled water catchment tanks, some roofing fragments, a few badly scorched trees, and a satellite dish were all that remained. Jack said, "Well the catchment tanks still work - catchin' lava now".Jack joked wryly about having nothing left there now except TV-dish reception, adding cynically that the 'Dish Network' had previously cut-off his service because he was the only one in the entire area; and further, he was required to give them back the dish… Well they now know where they can find it. That sattelite-dish appears to be nearly sitting on the ground, yet it is still on a six-foot long metal post embedded in lava, revealing the average lava depth across his property.

But it was the loss of the gardens he loved that hit Jack the hardest. (See a pre-lava image further down) He had planted hundreds of trees and shrubs, many of which were hand-grafted and trained to grow certain ways. On Saturday, he wandered back and forth over the still hot, and in places molten & fuming lava, looking for any possible survivors amongst these plants he had spent years nurturing. There were very few. He found one of his mangos, a breadfruit, and an avocado tree, which he said, "May possibly survive by some miracle". Those were at the one corner of his property the lava had not quite overtaken; the corner of what was once Plumeria and Hoku streets.

In the middle of his land, just below the lava-filled water catchment tanks, he also spotted some of his air-orchids still alive and where he had planted them, tucked into the scalloped bark of a mostly roasted date palm. As he gingerly pulled back the bark and peaked in, he exclaimed, "Some of these might possibly make it!". One day I will hike up there and see if any of these beautiful orchids do brighten an otherwise lava wasteland.

Jack had been feeding two semi-stray cats next to his house; they had been abandoned by neighbors burned out by lava years before, and were too wild to be picked up and taken with him during the evacuation. One of the last things I watched Jack do while we carried out his belongings to be airlifted last week, was place more food in the cat dishes across the yard from his house. "They'll have to fend for themselves now" he said when the flowing lava was only 120 feet from the backyard. And while we walked the lava-swollen property Saturday, he mentioned the cats again. "They'll be okay - there's lots of stuff for them to eat out here", he said while gazing over the edge of the hot raw lava, to the remainder of the forest beyond.The only item that Jack took away from this last walkabout on his land was one burnt nail that the flowing lava had somehow lifted up and set on top of the new lava mounds. As he bent to pick it up he said, "Wow, it's still hot!", and put the nail in his shirt pocket.Above, Jack observes molten lava beneath the cooler pahoehoe.

While you and I exchange gigabytes of information each week via our computers, Jack has never owned one. He has never sent an email. He tells me he did try once. While down off his Lava House home and in civilization, he went to an internet cafe and tried for some time to write an email to a friend. Jack says he was nearly done writing when the email page disappeared. He got up and left and has not tried again. Jack is a soft-spoken man, measured in his delivery, which is short, direct, yet often rich in content. I have truly enjoyed sharing time with Jack, even while bearing witness to his final hours at his beautiful home, and being with him for his last look at what remains there. In the days before the lava came so close, he and I talked story, shared meals, watched two hours of TV dramas - something of a rarity for me since I don't have a television. Jack loves watching movies. So much so, he would pack gallons of gasoline the three and a half miles from Kalapana Gardens across and up that inhospitable raw lavascape to his home high on the pali slopes. Though he had solar power, his giant TV needed a generator.

Jack told me it was because he likes movies that he ended up buying a lot in Royal Gardens at all… Short version is: he was walking by a realtors' office in Waikiki and saw a video display loop going on about Kalapana Gardens and the new Royal Gardens subdivision. The realtors were offering a free roundtrip flight to the Big Island to anyone interested in looking at one of these fifteen-hundred new lots. So he went. He ended up buying a lot up there on Queens Street in 1972, hence his claim to having lived in Royal Gardens for forty years. In 1978, he sold that lot and bought the Plumeria Street acreage and finished building his home in 1983, the dubious year Pu`u O`o began its fateful eruption. It took nearly thirty years for Pele to come to his door - the backdoor of his Lava House retreat.(Again, you can click on any image to open to a photo page)
One couple recently commented here on the blog that they were married at Jack's just weeks ago. I mentioned this to Jack a few days ago and he said he was sorry they would not have a place to return to on his land for an anniversary, and that the mango tree they were wed under is gone. I bet the wedding was a great one though! Jack's Lava House retreat was unique in all ways and created memories for many people over many years, and Jack enjoyed the visitors.

Pele giveth ~ Pele taketh away ~~

NOTE added: HanaHou! - the Hawaiian Airlines inflight magazine, published an article in their August/September 2012 edition and have a condensed version on their WEBSITE. My photos above are featured. This may be my last blog post for awhile. I do not plan to hike out to the current surface flows. I will be working on my movie projects. (Short update on that below).

{All images and text copyright of Leigh Hilbert 2012}
Lava is flowing along the coastal plains in several locations as it spreads out and rambles towards the sea, which is nearly two miles away but getting closer by the day. There are also numerous lava breakouts across a mile-wide area along and above the Pulama Pali. At night, lava glow spots can be viewed from the Hawaii County Civil Defense viewing area next to Kalapana Gardens, at the very end of highway 130-- open seven days a week from 2pm to about 9pm. There are also a few tour guides offering to take people out to the current surface flows. Ask the staff down at the viewing area for contacts.
Lava Movie Supporters: Thank You!!!
- Last pro-editing about to begin-- music licenses are still in process-- I might have to change the movies music to a lesser known composer to lesson the costs. My last reviewer of the short 33-minute version said, "It was the best thing I have watched in years!"-- That was good feedback I thought!

~~~ Aloha,

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Updated March 5th: Jack Thompson's Royal Gardens home overtaken by lava -Now with video~

Video of Jack Thompson and his home being overtaken by an intense lava flow from Kilauea's Pu`u O`o crater. I have added extra footage not seen in any news casts:
(You can also watch the video on YouTube by clicking on their icon)

Full story below:

Royal Gardens subdivision is no more, it ended existing last night, but will live on in legend for many more years - as will its last and longest residing resident, Jack Thompson.

(House is red square, and the large black area is much of last December's big flow that narrowly missed the house - click any image to open view window for all photos)
For thirty years Jack Thompson and his home in the Royal Gardens subdivision on the south slopes of Hawaii Island have been haunted by Kilauea Volcano lava flows.. The above photo taken on Thursday afternoon, March 1st: lava taking out the forest 1000-feet above Jack's home.

Friday, March 2nd, 2012, a persistent thrust of rapidly advancing lava coming from the erupting Pu`u O`o crater four miles above, invaded the last large forest remnant, and more importantly, the last occupied home. According to residents of Kalapana Gardens, who could see the remote area clearly from 3 1/2 miles away, say that lava overtook and destroyed Jack's house an hour and a half after we flew out last night. The lava was only 120-feet from the back of the house when we finally left late in the day.

The photo above was taken at 6:00 AM Friday morning March 2nd. The lava has taken out more forest and has just started down Hoku street, which is just out of view on the left edge of the lava fields and burning trees.

Jack and I made the call to evacuate mid-afternoon on Friday when it became abundantly clear that one strong finger of this flow front had invaded the deep forest directly behind and above his home, and was following a trench that leads directly to his backyard. Earlier in the day it seemed (to Jack only :) that the lava would possibly be pulled down the sloping Hoku street 300 feet to the east of his house, as shown in the photos below.Jack looking at Hoku street.
Jack came close to losing his home to lava starting in 1986, and many times since, so he was surprisingly relaxed about the situation until after I insisted we hike up into the forest to locate the lava I had suspected was coming through there, based on sightings I had seen earlier by looking into the forest west from Hoku street through the smoke and flames. After a much too short of a scramble through the forest we were shocked at just how close the lava was, and how strongly the flow front was moving -- heading directly toward Jack's house. Even at this sighting Jack thought it might get diverted by the landscape somehow, as it had so many times before in recent months and years .... (The spectacular December 2011 flow missed him by only 300 feet).

I returned to this forest lava front several times to gauge it's direction and pace. It was very evident to me this was going to take the house... So Jack came back up to see it again and he knew instantly we had to evacuate quickly. ( He was going to wait and see what happened overnight until this point!).

We had less than three hours of daylight to ready ourselves for an airlift out.

I snapped the aerial photos as Jack and I were airlifted out just before dusk last night; he in one chopper, while I was in the other- both helicopters loaded with Jack's belongings. All the images and video were shot over two days at, or nearby, Jack's property in Royal Gardens We arranged for Paradise Helicopter's to bring in two empty choppers to carry what belongings Jack wanted to save, and ourselves, off the mountain (there has been no road access there for many years due to the continued lava flows; it is nearly four miles to the nearest road.). Cal, of Paradise Helicopters, had generously offered to provide the airlift if needed... it was needed now!. Jack raced around the house gathering items, I began carrying the bags & boxes to Plumeria Street below the house. Cal sent in a helicopter early to give us a VHF radio so we could communicate directly with the pilots as pick up time neared, which was set for 5:00pm; we had very little time to complete the preparations; we could hear the methane explosions getting louder from the advancing flow front behind the house.Above: lava burning into the forest above Jack's home on Thursday night, March 1st, 2012

Here is a short bit of background information:
Jack tells me he purchased his first lot there in 1972 on Queens Street in Royal Gardens; relocating to Plumeria Street residence in 1978. The subdivision contained 1500 lots on the Pulama Pali and coastal plains below. Jack likes telling the story about the day he was finishing the cedar house in early January 1983: Having just placed the windows into his upper loft bedroom, when that very night he saw an erie orange glow flashing on the panes-- This glow was from huge lava fountains four miles upslope, he says this while waving his hands in the air like fountains, and was the very beginning of the eruption of Pu`u O`o January 3rd, 1983, which continues to this day.

All other homes in Royal Gardens, as well and a large number in Kalapana Gardens and surrounding area, were destroyed by repeated lava flows through the eighties and early nineties, including three more in 2010 & 11 - somehow Jack's always survived... until the evening of March 2nd, 2012.

Jack has witnessed every coastal lava flow that ever erupted from Pu`u O`o; close to thirty years worth. He could see from the national park side in the southwest, all the way to Kalapana & Kaimu nine miles to the east -- a very commanding view off his notorious Lava House up there alone high on the Pulama Pali slopes- no one else in the world can say that but him.

Lava flowing only 120 feet behind, and towards, Jack's home as we were airlifted out.

EDIT: One week later Jack & I went back to his homestead to see what remained. You can read that story and see the images and video here

*All images, video and text copyright of Leigh Hilbert - please contact for usage license: