Kilauea seems never, in historic times, to have filled and overflowed its vast crater. To do so would need an almost inconceivable volume of liquid rock material. But it approached this culmination in 1840, when it became, through its whole extent, a raging sea of fire. The boiling lava rose in the mighty mountain-cup to a height of from 500 to 600 feet. Then it forced a passage through a subterranean cavity twenty-seven miles long, and reached the sea forty miles distant, in two days. The stream where it fell into the sea was half a mile wide, and the flow kept up for three weeks, heating the ocean twenty miles from land. An eye-witness of this extraordinary flow thus describes it:
“When the torrent of fire precipitated itself into the ocean, the scene assumed a character of terrific and indescribable grandeur. The magnificence of destruction was never more perceptibly displayed than when these antagonistic elements met in deadly strife. The mightiest of earth’s magazines of fire poured forth its burning billows to meet the mightiest of oceans. For two score miles it came rolling, tumbling, swelling forward, an awful agent of death. Rocks melted like wax in its path; forests crackled and blazed before its fervent heat; the works of man were to it but as a scroll in the flames. Imagine Niagara’s stream, above the brink of the Falls, with its dashing, whirling, madly-raging waters hurrying on to their plunge, instantaneously converted into fire; a gory-hued river of fused minerals; volumes of hissing steam arising; some curling upward from ten thousand vents, which give utterance to as many deep-toned mutterings, and sullen, confined clamorings; gases detonating and shrieking as they burst from their hot prison-house; the heavens lurid with flame; the atmosphere dark and oppressive; the horizon murky with vapors and gleaming with the reflected contest!
“Such was the scene as the fiery cataract, leaping a precipice of fifty feet, poured its flood upon the ocean. The old line of coast, a mass of compact, indurated lava, whitened, cracked and fell. The waters recoiled, and sent forth a tempest of spray; they foamed and dashed around and over the melted rock, they boiled with the heat, and the roar of the conflicting agencies grew fiercer and louder. The reports of the exploding gases were distinctly heard twenty-five miles distant, and were likened to a whole broadside of heavy artillery. Streaks of the intensest light glanced like lightning in all directions; the outskirts of the burning lava as it fell, cooled by the shock, were shivered into millions of fragments, and scattered by the strong wind in sparkling showers far into the country. For three successive weeks the volcano disgorged an uninterrupted burning tide, with scarcely any diminution, into the ocean. On either side, for twenty miles, the sea became heated, with such rapidity that, on the second day of the junction of the lava with the ocean, fishes came ashore dead in great numbers, at a point fifteen miles distant. Six weeks later, at the base of the hills, the water continued scalding hot, and sent forth steam at every wash of the waves.”