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Nov 11, 2014 3:55 PM

Hawaii family loses rented home to lava

The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) The family who lost their rented home to a lava flow in Hawaii is looking forward to building a new one on land that was covered by lava years ago.

Margaret and John Byrd lived in the home with their family for eight years. They raised rabbits and other animals on the expansive property in the rural Big Island town of Pahoa.

"Yesterday, as the house was burning, we were pouring the foundation for our new house," the couple's daughter, Dianna Wilcox, said Tuesday. "It was really a strange coincidence."

The family decided to move in September, when it seemed likely that lava from Kilauea volcano would consume the house. They are building a new home 10 miles away in Kalapana, on land previously covered by lava.

Moving was a three-week process involving relocating 80 rabbits, goats, chickens, cows and sheep, Wilcox said. She also lived in the house with her sister, daughter and niece.

The family understands moving to another part of the volcano could mean losing another home to lava.

"If you're going to live on a volcano, it's about her, not us," she said referring to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. "If she wants her land back, then get out of the way. I like to call it 'paradise tax.' "

Lava has been slowly snaking its way toward rural and isolated communities in the Big Island's Puna district for months, but it took an oozing stream of molten rock just 45 minutes to burn down the 1,100-square-foot house.

The leading edge of the lava flow had bypassed the home, but it was a lobe of lava that broke out upslope and widened that reached the house. The leading edge remained stalled Tuesday, about 480 feet away from Pahoa Village Road, which goes through downtown, officials said.

When the family got word the house would burn down, Wilcox said she tried to make it back in time to watch. By the time she arrived, the house had collapsed.

"A lot of memories just went up in flames," she said.

The home's nearest neighbor is about a half-mile away, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said. A garage and barn structure near the destroyed home could also burn down soon, he said.

Being occupants of the first house to burn is "a strange kind of honor," Wilcox said. "My family feels so grateful for all the prayers and well wishes."


Associated Press writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa.


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