Lava Destroys Last Royal Gardens Residence

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The sole remaining resident of Royal Gardens said goodbye to his home Friday night, just before lava from Kilauea volcano overran his one-acre property in Royal Gardens.

Jack Thompson, 61, left his home in a helicopter with a few belongings about an hour before it was destroyed.

Thompson’s house had been the last structure left in the once idyllic subdivision on the steep slopes below the Pu‘u ‘O‘o vent. Thompson was finishing his two-story house just as the current eruption began on Jan. 3, 1983, creating a huge glow on the mountain above.

Since then, lava from Pu‘u ‘O‘o and Kupaianaha, another Kilauea vent, has covered every other home in the remote subdivision as well as more than 47 square miles of the area in and around Kalapana in lower Puna. Lava has also covered nine miles of Highway 130, piling up to 115 feet high in places.

Thompson’s home, which became increasingly isolated as new lava flows covered roads farther and farther away, was the 214th structure destroyed by the eruption. That tally includes many homes in the coastal community of Kapa‘ahu and the Kalapana Gardens subdivision, both of which are no more.


A few new houses have sprung up on the lava plain below Royal Gardens in recent years, but some of those optimistic homeowners have already been displaced by newer flows.

The eruption, which scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory say is the most voluminous from Kilauea’s east rift zone in the past five centuries, has also added more than 500 acres of land to the volcano’s southern shore.

Speaking Sunday from his other house in Ainaloa, Thompson said he spent most of his time at the Royal Gardens home which provided him an income from a bed-and-breakfast operation and from visits by tour helicopters carrying sightseers, before both were shut down by county edict.

Just last month, Paradise Helicopters had submitted an environmental assessment to the county in hopes of obtaining a special permit to allow the visits to resume.


But the tour company harbored no delusions about the continuity of those stops, as noted in the environmental study.

“It is recognized that the lava from Kilauea Volcano may destroy Mr. Thompson’s home within a matter of months to years, after which landings at the site would have little or no reason to continue,” it said.

Lava had threatened Thompson’s house on numerous occasions over the past 29-plus years.

“It’s been a block from my home a dozen times,” he said.


All that remained Saturday of Thompson's home was its metal roof and a water catchment tank. Photo courtesy of videographer Mick Kalber.


Thompson said he has no regrets about living in a home that in recent years required a two-hour hike just to bring in food and other staples.

“I enjoyed my time there, the peace and quiet – no coqui frogs and no traffic,” he said.


What’s next for Thompson?

His future plans include visiting his mother in California, and perhaps a trip to see a friend who moved to Thailand.

“I’ve got plenty of time to fill,” he said.


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