HONOLULU - The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a warning Thursday to a rural community in the path of a lava flow on Hawaii's Big Island, as the molten rock moved to within a mile of homes.
Observatory scientists said lava from the Kilauea volcano could reach the Kaohe Homesteads in five to seven days if it continues advancing through cracks in the earth.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said the agency has not yet ordered an evacuation. But Mayor Billy Kenoi is declaring an emergency, which will allow authorities to restrict access to roadways so residents can leave safely if an evacuation becomes necessary.
"We are taking this step to ensure our residents have time to prepare their families, their pets, and their livestock for a safe and orderly evacuation from Ka'ohe in the event the flow continues to advance," Mayor Kenoi said.
The observatory said the lava has been advancing about 800 feet per day since July 10.
The Kilauea volcano has been continuously erupting since 1983, but new vents - or points where lava reaches the surface - have opened up periodically. The lava normally doesn't approach homes, but it has wiped out neighborhoods in the past.
The emergency declaration came immediately after USGS geologist Jim Kauahikaua, of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, raised the lava threat to a warning, meaning a hazardous lava flow is imminent, underway or suspected, CBS News affiliate KGMB reported.
Scientists have been closely monitoring the June 27 lava flow, named for the date it began erupting from a new vent. Civil defense officials last month met with community members to inform them about the threat and discuss evacuation plans.
Most of the lava flows from Kilauea's east rift zone have pushed south, but this recent flow is moving northeast, which is unusual but not unprecedented, according to the observatory.
Jim Kauahikaua, the observatory's scientist-in-charge, has said the current flow is being channeled by two previous flows, which makes it move faster.
It can be difficult to forecast the flow's exact path because it can be affected by subtle variations in topography, changes in lava volume and where and how lava enters or exits ground cracks along the rift zone, the observatory said.