An eruption of still greater violence took place in 1865, characterized by similar phenomena, particularly the throwing up of jets of lava. This fiery fountain continued to play without intermission for twenty days and nights, varying only as respects the height to which the jet arose, which is said to have ranged between 100 and 1,000 feet, the mean diameter of the jet being about 100 feet. This eruption was accompanied by explosions so loud as to have been heard at a distance of forty miles.
A cone of about 300 feet in height, and about a mile in circumference, was accumulated round the orifice whence the jet ascended. It was composed of solid matters ejected with the lava, and it continued to glow like a furnace, notwithstanding its exposure to the air. The current of lava on this occasion flowed to a distance of thirty-five miles, burning its way through the forests, and filling the air with smoke and flames from the ignited timber. The glare from the glowing lava and the burning trees together was discernible by night at a distance of 200 miles from the island.
A succeeding great lava flow was that which began on November 6, 1880. Mr. David Hitchcock, who was camping on Mauna Kea at the time of this outbreak, saw a spectacle that few human eyes have ever beheld. “We stood,” writes he, “on the very edge of that flowing river of rock. Oh, what a sight it was! Not twenty feet from us was this immense bed of rock slowly moving forward with irresistible force, bearing on its surface huge rocks and immense boulders of tons’ weight as water would carry a toy-boat. The whole front edge was one bright red mass of solid rock incessantly breaking off from the towering mass and rolling down to the foot of it, to be again covered by another avalanche of white-hot rocks and sand. The whole mass at its front edge was from twelve to thirty feet in height. Along the entire line of its advance it was one crash of rolling, sliding, tumbling red-hot rock. We could hear no explosions while we were near the flow, only a tremendous roaring like ten thousand blast furnaces all at work at once.”
This was the most extensive flow of recent years, and its progress from the interior plain through the dense forests above Hilo and out on to the open levels close to the town was startling and menacing enough. Through the woods especially it was a turbulent, seething mass that hurled down mammoth trees, and licked up streams of water, and day and night kept up an unintermitting cannonade of explosions. The steam and imprisoned gases would burst the congealing surface with loud detonations that could be heard for many miles. It was not an infrequent thing for parties to camp out close to the flow over night. Ordinarily a lava-flow moves sluggishly and congeals rapidly, so that what seems like hardihood in the narrating is in reality calm judgment, for it is perfectly safe to be in the close vicinity of a lava-stream, and even to walk on its surface as soon as one would be inclined to walk on cooling iron in a foundry. This notable flow finally ceased within half a mile of Hilo, where its black form is a perpetual reminder of a marvellous deliverance from destruction.