PAHOA, Hawaii — “You might want to step back,” said Darryl Clinton as yet another explosion boomed nearby.
He seemed to know exactly what that sound meant. A fissure that violently cracked open the earth’s surface was spewing more lava and, possibly, more lava bombs — flying chunks of molten rock.
Clinton spoke to CNN on Friday, while defending two homes in Pahoa roughly 100 yards from the unstable fissure that’s been erupting for more than a week now.
To get from one house to another took a life-or-death game of frogger.
Clinton pointed to the remains of one lava bomb purged from a nearby fissure that landed just inches from a friend’s house. The yard was littered every few feet with fallen lava, but Clinton wasn’t worried about getting hit by the hunks of molten rock.
“It’s almost like catching a football,” Clinton said in describing how to avoid being hit. “But you don’t want to catch this football.”
Armed with just a fire extinguisher and a garden hose, Clinton defended the homes of friends.
He sprayed down burning lava bombs that hit houses to prevent them from catching fire. Heaps of flaming rock shattered windows and destroyed a septic tank — setting it ablaze with a blue flame of burning methane gas.
A day later, Clinton fell victim himself. He was talking on his cell phone for mere moments when a bowling ball-sized lava bomb hit him in the leg while he was on the porch.
“‘That didn’t just happen’ was my first thought,” he said Tuesday. “I knew it was real because of the pain.”
The fiery bomb snapped bones in his leg.
“Then I got caught on fire, fell on the floor, grabbed my foot and leg and held ’em together,” he said.
His ex-wife Lisa Roach was nearby and took him to the hospital. She was helping him defend the homes — the pair were keeping watch in shifts.
Roach said she believes the intense heat of the lava bomb actually cauterized the wound, preventing it from bleeding more than it did.
The burning projectile set Clinton’s porch ablaze, but a neighbor managed to extinguish it. Clinton is currently in the hospital, recovering. Roach said he can already wiggle his toes, but won’t be able to put weight on his injured foot for at least six weeks.
Saying ‘goodbye to everything’
Big Island residents have endured thousands of earthquakes, relentless lava flow and dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide since the Kilauea volcano erupted earlier this month.
What’s worse, fissures that look dormant can suddenly rage back to life, shooting fountains of flaming rocks into the air again. But no one can predict when or where the next eruption from the ground will happen, or where the lava flow will go next.
“It’s all a guessing game,” said Bruce Tickell, who owns two properties in the Pahoa area.
Dona Mueller is also packing up to leave her home. Deafening fissure explosions have been shaking her house.
“You can see it blew out this window,” Mueller said, pointing to shards of glass on her upstairs bedroom floor.
Her family came to help her pack, but Mueller’s not taking much with her.
“There’s not much,” she said. “I can walk away. It’s stuff.”
‘I thought I was gonna bleed out’
Clinton has a metal rod in his leg and two broken bones. A cast covers part of his exposed bone.
He’s had two surgeries already, and will likely have more. But he’s expected to recover.
“It was the most extreme force I ever felt in my life,” he said in an interview from his hospital bed, recalling the impact. “I thought I was gonna bleed out.”
In spite of his injuries, he said he has no regrets about putting himself in harm’s way. Up until the point he was hit, the risk injury seemed low enough to warrant trying to save the homes, he said.
Of course, though, if Clinton could do it again he would pay more attention and try not to get hit.
“For the most part, we’ve enjoyed the whole time — front row seats to every aspect of a lava flow you can imagine,” he said. “It’s just been amazing when you see it close like that — and then to be able to save a couple structures, at least help.”