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:


  1. sad end to an enduring battle

  2. I seem to recall reading about Jack before. This is the final chapter of "The House that Jack Built," isn't it?

  3. This is definitely documentary material. People are fascinated with lava flows and its destructive power..combined with the personal story of Jack..this is heartbreaking, but very compelling material. Thoughts and prayers to Jack from us in Keauhou!

  4. An end to a legend, the place was something special. Best wishes to Jack!

    Agreed there is a great story here, one that just asks for a short documentary film.

  5. Wow - what a story! You have done a thorough and heartfelt job of witnessing and documenting this important part of Big Island history for us.

  6. An overwhelming fear we are all faced with here on the big islamd. You never know.what eara will be the next area. Aloha, papa bay big island

  7. We were married at Jack's House just 3 weeks ago... It's unbelievable to us that it is gone. He was a gracious host and our hearts go out to him.

  8. We flew over Jack's place on February 27 just five days before the end. Very sad.

    All the best to Jack.

    Thanks for the story and photos Leigh.


  9. Jack and his story have been featured on a couple of TV shows I have seen. Jack is a tribute to the American Spirit. To APinney just above me, congratulations on your marriage and the uniqueness of it.

  10. Your in the best place to rebuild your home & continue life Aloha style! Xxo

  11. Sorry for your loss Jack. We appreciated your hospitality on the tour of your grounds last Sunday afternoon. It was a beautiful place that will be missed by many. We wish you Peace and Happiness on your new chapter in paradise. Mahalo, Chris and Brenda

  12. Thanks for the RSS update, I would have missed the video just following the RSS feed.

    Very nicely shot and edited!

  13. Best wishes to you Jack.
    We flew over your place in 2009. When ever we talk to others about our adventure on the slopes of the Volcano, your story of perseverance always was one of admiration by those who listened.
    We are truly sorry for your loss and thankful for your safety. Be well, God Bless.

    Coquitlam, British Columbia

  14. Jack, Extremely sorry to hear of your loss. I was really wanting to return to Hawaii at some point and visit your house.

  15. My family was truly lucky to have been able to visit your "piece of heaven". We will never forget your kindness and wit. Taking us to the lava flows up the street and the tour of your home is a memory we will always treasure.Best wishes for the future.

    Mike,DeeDee & Bailey

  16. I have been passing along you supportive comments to Jack; he appreciates you guys!

    ~~ Leigh

  17. Really much dangerous scene and i am thinking that such person effected in this situation what happened they there.