Don't Get Screwed: The Lava Edition

Don't Get Screwed: The Lava Edition

  • Nate Gaddis
  • 02/10/23

*Author's note: the names and exact locations in this article have been modified for the sake of privacy.


Meet Bill 


Bill is rich – not Elon or Kanye rich – but with a handful of technology patents and more than a few houses in his name, he’s doing alright.


It was with that knowledge that in 2018, that Principal Agent and Co-Founder of Wai Pacific, Nate Gaddis, agreed to do something he'd never done in his career – assist a client in purchasing property in a high-risk lava zone (Zone 2, to be exact).


The property itself was a stunner – a custom-built marvel of Zen-inspired architecture with multiple outbuildings perched over sprawling acreage along what Big Island locals have dubbed “the Yoga Coast.”  A few days before closing on the sale of the property, Nate Gaddis met with the Seller’s agent and Bill in-person, and reminded him one last time of the potential perils involved in purchasing property in Hawaii in a high-risk lava zone.


“Yeah, but what are the chances?!” Bill exclaimed, standing on the expansive deck that meandered around the complex.


Less than a year later, he got his answer.


Watching from afar (via webcam) as a mountainous wall of lava careened past the architectural marvel he had placed his bets on, Bill lamented to Nate by phone, “Well I guess you told me so.”


Bill’s house would go on to barely dodge the 2018 Kilauea eruption.  Other homeowners weren’t so lucky, as the Volcano plowed through over 700 homes along the southeast flank of the Big Island in a matter of days, scorching cherished coastal tide pools and destroying beaches in its wake.



What’s in a number?


With that in mind, let’s take a moment to recap the Big Island’s “Lava Zone Score Card.”  For those not aware, the United States Geological Survey ranks these hazard zones in a semi-confusing ascending order of 1 through 9.


You can think of Zone 1 as being the equivalent of “Lava totally loves flowing here” and Zone 9 as “Lava? What Lava?” with everything between having a bit of nuance.  The idea of a “lower risk” zone generally kicks in for Zones 3 and above, due to the fact that property buyers typically aren’t required to purchase additional lava hazard insurance when obtaining a mortgage.


The most populated parts of the Big Island tend to fall into Zones 3 (Hilo, Kea`au, parts of Kailua-Kona) and Zone 4 (Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa), while Zones 8 and 9 are reserved only for our oldest volcanoes, in areas downslope of Mauna Kea and the Kohala Mountains (Hamakua, Kamuela, and Hawi for instance).  Only a smattering of territories like Na`alehu fall between these zones.


One quick point of fact: you don’t magically get safer if you choose to hop across the dividing line between say, Zones 2 and 3.  In most cases, it’s a gradual shift into safer territory – with a few topographical exceptions like giant ravines or a large ridge dividing two zones from each other.

Lower risk doesn’t mean “no risk.”


In 1881, princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani  (the last of the Kamehameha line of royals) stood face-to-face with a massive lava flow that had managed to enter the town of Hilo, threatening to overrun the Big Island’s most populous community.


After offerings (brandy and handkerchiefs among them) and chants directed at Madam Pele, the princess seemingly achieved the impossible – a near-total cessation of a lava flow that had lasted no less than 280 days.  The exact sequence of events is a bit hazy to this day, but there’s a fantastic article on this, filled with incredible historical facts and figures written by Ben Gaddis and Dr. Jim Kauahikaua of the US Geological Service titled “The Lava Flow that came to Hilo.”


Indeed, even recent history is full of near-misses for the Big Islands most populous areas,  including a near-evacuation of Hilo in 1984, and the massive 2022 eruption of the largest Volcano on earth, Mauna Loa.

Some things get better with age


In order to truly get out of the way of potential lava threats, you need to get old.  Really old.


By that, we mean "really old volcanoes."  Starting at approximately Hilo's Wailuku River and running all the way up the Hamakua coast and into the Kohala Mountain Range, Lava Zones 8 and 9 represent the lowest risk Lava Zones on the island, encompassing the Big Island's two most geriatric Volcanoes.


Mauna Kea along the Hamakua Coast currently sits dormant (very much asleep), while the Kohala Mountains are quite literally extinct.  This means famous towns like Hawi, Waimea (also known as Kamuela), Honoka`a, Papaikou, and Pepeekeo are all considered safe from any lava-related threats within our lifetimes.  Partly as a result of this fact, these beautiful towns are famous not only for their natural beauty, but for their ability to appreciate in value over time.

So, why live on the Big Island?


Despite its fiery history, the Big Island (in particular, its eastern coastline) remains the fastest growing part of the state of Hawaii, both in physical size (thanks, lava!) and population.  With over 200,000 humans now residing here, and thousands more drawn yearly, a fair question to ask is:


Are these people nuts?


That really depends on what you think of Florida.


With over 350 tropical cyclones impacting the sunshine state since the year 1900, Florida’s residents and businesses have endured over $123 billion in damages since the year 2000 alone.  Yet, with balmy weather and miles of beaches, it remains one of the fastest growing places in the country.  So much so, that it has managed to surpass New York as the third most populous state in America.


In reality, few parts of the world are without natural hazards, and the associated insurance policies to account for them.  Just ask the residents of fire-prone parts of California or Colorado, or the tornado-weary denizens of Kansas and Oklahoma.


We here at Wai Pacific encourage you to educate yourself about the risks around you, wherever you might be going next.


Be smart, do your research, and of course… don’t get screwed!


Don't Get Screwed: The Lava Edition
Don't Get Screwed: The Lava Edition
Don't Get Screwed: The Lava Edition
Don't Get Screwed: The Lava Edition
Don't Get Screwed: The Lava Edition

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