Volcano disrupts life in island paradise for Steamboat ex-pat
June 21, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Former Steamboat Springs resident Jeffrey Dale Murray and his wife, Jan, have had enough molten lava in their lives. The Murrays are packing up what's left of their household in the 'Leilani Estates subdivision on Hawaii's Big Island.
They plan to head back to Western Colorado, where there hasn't been a volcanic eruption for 4,000 years or so.
This week, Jeff described how, on the evening of May 3, he and his two dogs scrambled to evacuate their home, perched on a hill above the ocean, as lava from Fissure 8, the very active eruption below the summit of Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano, came perilously close.
"We had been experiencing earthquakes – like a 2.0 to 5.5 (on the Richter scale) literally every seven to 10 minutes,” Jeff said. “It was kind of exciting."
But things were about to get more exciting.
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"I got up in the morning, and I really didn't know what to do," Jeff said. "Cinders were coming down, and the roar was unbelievable."
His wife had packed a few bags, just in case, before leaving for France the day before. And Jeff began the work of loading his truck with more belongings.
'This is a mandatory evacuation!'
"The next thing I knew sirens were going off and emergency people were saying over and over, "This is a mandatory evacuation. Leave now.
"I was throwing the most expensive things I could find in the back of the truck," he said. "I basically grabbed my musical instruments, and our German shepherds Wiley and Ziggy."
At the same time, Jeff noticed the road around him was beginning to show cracks, and volcanic debris was falling from the sky.
"The funny thing was it was about the size of my fist but only weighed a few ounces. With that stuff coming down, I finally said, 'Screw it, I'm out of here,'" he said.
There was just one more problem.
"When I went to get in the truck, the dogs had hit the automatic lock, with the truck running," he said.
Instead of panicking, Jeff went to his garage and grabbed a three-pound hammer.
"I busted a window out," he said, and the evacuation was finally underway.
Since that scary morning, the Murrays were able to return to their neighborhood. Their house was not consumed by molten lava, but it came very close.
Fissure 8, according to Jan, has gone from being a fissure to an actual volcano.
"The cinder cone is some 100 feet tall now and fountaining," Jan said.
Jeff said the lava flow is angling away from their home, but it's only about two thousand feet away. He said he has posed for pictures in front of the spouting lava from a distance of 50 feet.
Giving up an island paradise
The Murrays had grown accustomed to an idyllic lifestyle in Leilani Estates, picking a variety of fruit from their own fruit trees.
"It’s in this lush, jungle-y beautiful neighborhood that looks like it was landscaped," Jeff said. "There are neighbors who have ocean views from their backyards."
Though their house is still standing, the poisonous gas emitting from the volcanic activity has discolored the stainless steel appliances and the white carpeting. And their homeowners insurance won't cover the damage – the policy excludes volcanic damage, Jeff said.
"We lost about $300,000 in our home," he said. "Everything in it is ruined."
Jeff, who drove an airport shuttle for Airport Taxi — now Go Alpine — in Steamboat, said he shipped his Jeep to the mainland just this week in anticipation of relocating ahead of Jan to look for work in either Grand Junction or Steamboat. A tentative real estate acquisition in Grand Junction could drive the decision about where to relocate.
"I'm torn," Jeff said. "My whole life was at our house. We had two acres — a beautiful little farm with bananas and oranges. The sky looks like a beautiful sunset every night, but it's the lava. The whole southern sky is lit up by the lava."