After unexploded ordnance found, officials reiterate warning: Stay out of lava fields

Since 1964, the state has leased nearly 23,000 acres at the Pohakuloa Training Area to the U.S. Army as part of a 65-year agreement.
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 1:35 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2022 at 1:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Following the discovery of unexploded ordnance near a Mauna Loa eruption viewing area, officials on Monday reiterated this warning: Stay out of the lava fields.

“That’s dangerous, and it’s trespassing at this time, and it’s not a good thing and could actually prevent people from going there,” said Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth.

Officials said the unexploded ordnance — also known as UXO — was spotted in lava rocks off Old Saddle Road on Sunday, prompting an hours-long closure of the new lava viewing area near the U.S. Army Pohakuloa Training Area.

In a news conference on Monday, Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin said the lava was still about 2.1 miles away from the UXO and was not a danger to the community or those who work at Pohakuloa, but the viewing area was closed as a precaution.

Cronin said Sunday’s discovery was a training ordnance that produces smoke as opposed to a bomb that produces fragments.

Since 1964, the state has leased nearly 23,000 acres at the Pohakuloa Training Area to the U.S. Army as part of a 65-year agreement. A state inspection in 2014 found the ceded lands with explosive hazards and significant military debris.

“Whenever unexploded ordnance is found in other areas, we close off the area and deal with it with experts to be as cautious as possible,” Cronin said.

It’s still unclear how UXO would be affected by lava, but Cronin said Pohakuloa is an active training area with UXO present in other locations.

“That just reiterates our guidelines to stay on the road and stay near your vehicles for safety and enjoyment of everyone involved,” Cronin said.

On Sunday, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said crews found a group of three hikers walking down the closed Mauna Loa Access Road — even after the public viewing area was closed for multiple hours.

Violators could be cited and even arrested.

Roth said spectators should stay near their vehicles and be respectful, which also means not throwing rubbish out into places they shouldn’t be.

“We’re asking people to be pono and doing the right thing,” Roth said. “If you’re going, stay close to your car.”

The lava flow from fissure no. 3 is still 2.2 miles away from Daniel K. Inouye Highway, and as officials weigh the best time to close the key thoroughfare, Roth said they now have more to take into account.

“Now we have that one other danger that we have to factor in, that people are going out into that field that may close the highway sooner,” he said. “We’re asking people not to do that.”