Hawaii volcano erupts in 6-mile-high plume, 'ash fallout' alert

PAHOA, Hawaii, May 17 (Reuters) - Hawaii's Kilauea volcano spewed ash nearly six miles (9 km) into the sky on Thursday and scientists warned this could be the first in a string of more violent explosive eruptions with the next possibly occurring within hours.

"This has relieved pressure temporarily," U.S. Geological Survey geologist Michelle Coombs told a news conference in Hilo. "We may have additional larger, powerful events."

Residents of the Big Island were warned to take shelter from the ash as toxic gas levels spiked in a small southeast area where lava has burst from the ground during the two-week eruption.

The wind could carry Kilauea's ash plume as far as Hilo, the Big Island's largest city and a major tourism center, the County of Hawaii Civil Defense warned in an alert.

"Protect yourself from ash fallout," it said.

Some Big Island residents had feared "the big one" after Kilauea shot anvil-sized "ballistic blocks" into the visitors' car park on Wednesday and was rocked by earthquakes that damaged buildings and cracked roads in the park that was closed last week.

SEE ALSO: Kilauea Volcano: Code red warning issued as eruptions intensify

But geologists said the 4:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m. EDT) explosion was not particularly large and on a par with the last series of steam-driven blasts, which took place in 1924.

"The activity is such that they can occur at any time, separated by a number of hours," Hawaiian National Volcano Observatory Deputy Scientist-In-Charge Steve Brantley told reporters on a conference call.

Geologists said it was extremely unlikely Kilauea would have a massive eruption like that of 1790 which killed dozens of people in the deadliest eruption to occur in what is now the United States.

See more from the Kilauea eruptions: 

47 PHOTOS
Kilauea volcano erupts, sparking evacuations in Hawaii
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Kilauea volcano erupts, sparking evacuations in Hawaii
PAHOA, HI - MAY 13: Lava and smoke explodes from Fissure 17 at Leilani Estates in the aftermath of eruptions from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island, on May 13, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. The U.S. Geological Survey said a recent lowering of the lava lake at the volcano's Halemaumau crater �as raised the potential for explosive eruptions�at the volcano. Authorities have confirmed a 16th lava fissure opened in the vicinity of Pahoa. (Photo by Andrew Richard Hara/Ena Media Hawaii/Getty Images)
HAWAII, USA - MAY 17: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'USGS / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Ash plume rises following a massive volcano eruption on Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, United States on May 17, 2018. Lava is spewing more than 60 metres into the air and spread around 36,000 square metres. (Photo by USGS / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HAWAII, USA - MAY 17: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'USGS / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Ash plume rises from forest following a massive volcano eruption on Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, United States on May 17, 2018. Lava is spewing more than 60 metres into the air and spread around 36,000 square metres. (Photo by USGS / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HAWAII, USA - MAY 17: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'USGS / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Ash plume rises following a massive volcano eruption on Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, United States on May 17, 2018. Lava is spewing more than 60 metres into the air and spread around 36,000 square metres. (Photo by USGS / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 15: Lava from active fissures illuminates volcanic gases from the Kilauea volcano amidst stars on Hawaii's Big Island on May 15, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. The U.S. Geological Survey said a recent lowering of the lava lake at the volcano's Halemaumau crater 'has raised the potential for explosive eruptions' at the volcano. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
People watch as ash erupt from the Halemaumau crater near the community of Volcano during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
PAHOA, HI - MAY 15: Plants grow in cracks on a hardened lava flow from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 15, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. The section of the hardened lava flow marks the point where lava stopped flowing towards the town in 2014, saving the town from destruction. The U.S. Geological Survey said a recent lowering of the lava lake at the volcano's Halemaumau crater �as raised the potential for explosive eruptions�at the volcano. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
PAHOA, HI - MAY 6: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, a lava flow moves on Makamae Street after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 6, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
Kilauea volcano's summit lava lake shows a significant drop of roughly 220 metres below the crater rim in this wide angle camera view showing the entire north portion of the Overlook crater in Hawaii, U.S. May 6, 2018. Picture taken on May 6, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: A plume of volcanic gas mixed with smoke from fires caused by lava rises (C) amidst clouds in the Leilani Estates neighborhood in the aftermath of eruptions from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, a fissure produces lava after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
A new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii, U.S., May 5, 2018. Photo taken May 5, 2018. US Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, ash sprews from the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
A fissure on Leilani and Kaupili Streets in the Leilani Estates subdivision caused by an eruption of the Kilauea Volcano is shown following a series of earthquakes, in Hawaii, U.S. on May 4, 2018. Picture taken on May 4, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, a fissure forms on the west flank of the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, a fissure produces lava after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, ash sprews from the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
A fissure on Leilani and Kaupili Streets in the Leilani Estates subdivision caused by an eruption of the Kilauea Volcano is shown following a series of earthquakes, in Hawaii, U.S. on May 4, 2018. Picture taken on May 4, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
Lava advances along a street near a fissure in Leilani Estates, on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone, Hawaii, the U.S., May 5, 2018. U.S. Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Signs hang in the entrance of an evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens, home to about 1,700 people, who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano, one of five on the island, erupted on Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the last couple of days, in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
PAHOA, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, a fissure about 150m long produces lava after the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in the Leilani Estates subdivision near Pahoa, Hawaii. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI - MAY 3: In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, ash sprews from the Puu Oo crater on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano on May 3, 2018 in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The governor of Hawaii has declared a local state of emergency near the Mount Kilauea volcano after it erupted following a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, forcing the evacuation of nearly 1,700 residents. (Photo by U.S. Geological Survey via Getty Images)
A dog waits for its owner to return at a pet-friendly evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the last couple of days, in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Steam cracks are shown before a fissure opened on Kaupili Street in the Leilani Estates subdivision caused by an eruption of the Kilauea Volcano is shown following a series of earthquakes, in Hawaii, U.S. on May 4, 2018. Picture taken on May 4, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Lava advances along a street near a fissure in Leilani Estates, on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone, Hawaii, the U.S., May 5, 2018. U.S. Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
A fissure on Leilani and Kaupili Streets in the Leilani Estates subdivision caused by an eruption of the Kilauea Volcano is shown following a series of earthquakes, in Hawaii, U.S. on May 4, 2018. Picture taken on May 4, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
A crack opens up on Pohoiki Road, Lava near Leilani Estates, on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone, Hawaii, the U.S., May 5, 2018. U.S. Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
An HVO geologist collects samples of spatter by fissure 10 from the Kilauea volcano, in the Leilani Estates in Hawaii, U.S. May 6, 2018. Picture taken on May 6, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
USGS scientists monitor Kilauea volcano's eruption spatter on the roads in the Leilani Estates in Hawaii, U.S. May 6, 2018. Picture taken on May 6, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: A structure burns as lava from volcanic fissures slowly advances in the Leilani Estates neighborhood in the aftermath of eruptions from the the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Lava erupts from a fissure on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke and lava erupt from a fissure near a home on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Gases rise from a fissure on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Lava erupts from a fissure on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Lava erupts from a fissure on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Smoke and lava erupt from a fissure near a home on the outskirts of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Cracks are visible along a road in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
A crack is seen in a road in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Volcanic gases rise from the ground in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
A bouquet and a lei rest on a lava flow in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
A driver steers through volcanic gasses in the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Bystanders watch lava erupt from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano, U.S., May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Lava flows downhill, in this image from a helicopter overflight of Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift zone, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A 17th lava fissure erupts hundreds of feet in the air during a volcano outbreak in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. Courtesy John Linzmeier/U.S. Air National Guard/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Lava flows into the Pacific Ocean southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Kilauea's falling lava lake has likely descended to a level at or below the water table, allowing water to run on to the top of its lava column and create steam-driven blasts, they said.

"I don't think there is a big one that's coming," said University of Hawaii vulcanologist Scott Rowland.

"I think it's going to be a series of explosions similar to the one that happened this morning, and that's based on what happened in 1924, which is really our only analog," he said of the nearly century old event, which lasted 2-1/2 weeks and killed one person who was hit by a "ballistic block."

 

ASH MASKS

A spike in toxic sulfur dioxide gas levels closed schools around the town of Pahoa, 25 miles (40 km) east of the volcano, where lava from giant cracks has destroyed 37 homes and other structures and forced about 2,000 residents to evacuate.

A change in wind direction caused gas spewing from fissures to drift northwest towards Pahoa, prompting National guard troops to don gas masks at a nearby road intersection, according to a Reuters reporter.

Pahoa fire station recorded a "red level" of sulfur dioxide, meaning the gas would cause choking and an inability to breathe, Fenix Grange of the Hawaii Department of Health told a news conference in Hilo. "If it's red, it's get out of Dodge," she said. There have been no deaths or serious injuries reported during the current eruption. Civil defense workers handed out one ash mask per family member in communities close to Kilauea to protect residents from the powdered rock, which is not poisonous but causes irritation to eyes and airways.

An aviation red alert was in effect due to risks ash could be carried into aircraft routes and damage jet engines, USGS said. Passenger jets generally cruise at around 30,000 feet, the height of Thursday's plume.

Across the Big Island, home to 200,000 residents, people were encouraged to take caution driving, as ashfall can make roads slippery, and not go outdoors unless necessary.

See residents who were displaced by the eruptions: 

22 PHOTOS
Hawaiians impacted by the Kilauea volcano eruptions
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Hawaiians impacted by the Kilauea volcano eruptions
Carolyn McNamara, 70, hugs her neighbor Paul Campbell, 68, at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their homes in the Puna community of Leilani Estates after the Kilauea Volcano, one of five on the island, erupted on Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the last couple of days, in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Residents of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions, who were evacuated from their homes due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano, pick up supplies at a community donation center on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Piper Lynn, 37, center, eats a meal at a community donation center with her children, Kiera, 13, and Zachary, 2, from left, and her husband, Matthew Herrera, after the family was evacuated from their home due to eruptions of the nearby Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Piper Lynn, 37, center, picks up a meal at a community donation center with her children, Jacob, 15, Zachary, 2, and Kiera, 13, from left, after the family was evacuated from their home due to eruptions of the nearby Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Residents of the Leilani Estates subdivision pass a checkpoint while driving to their homes to pick up belongings after being evacuated due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Brandi Barnard, 30, right, a resident of the Leilani Estates subdivision who was evacuated from her home due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano, picks up clothing for her children at a community donation center on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Red Cross volunteer Marilani Marciel, 59, watches donations arrive at an evacuation center in Pahoa for residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Ron McLain, 58, watches as his husband, Michael Berry, 68, offers water to their dog at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their home in the Puna community of Leilani Estates after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018.
Audrey Meyer, 49, sits with her daughters, Nicole, 7, left, and Sarah, at an evacuation center in Pahoa after moving out of their home in the Puna community of Leilani Estates after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday after a series of earthquakes over the last couple of days, in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Police check the identity of returning evacuees to Leilani Estates near the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island on May 7, 2018, after the residents were forced to evacuate following recent earthquakes and concern over toxic sulphur dioxide. - More than two dozen homes have been destroyed and dozens more are threatened by red-hot lava seeping from the Kilauea volcano, the most active in Hawaii, civil defense officials said. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A fireman walks past a sign leading to the entrance of Leilani Estates where evacuees have been returning to gather their belongings near the town of Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island on May 7, 2018, after the residents were forced to evacuate following recent earthquakes and concern over toxic sulphur dioxide. - More than two dozen homes have been destroyed and dozens more are threatened by red-hot lava seeping from the Kilauea volcano, the most active in Hawaii, civil defense officials said. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Parishioners pray during Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. One parishioner from the church had their home destroyed by the recent lava flows in the area. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in nearby Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Evacuees Stacy Welch (L) and her daughter Maddy (C) check a map provided by a volunteer showing lava destruction in their Leilani Estates neighborhood on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Parishioners pray during Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. One parishioner from the church had their home destroyed by the recent lava flows in the area. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in nearby Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 06: Residents jam a street after being allowed to briefly return home to check on belongings and pets in an evacuation zone near volcanic activity on Hawaii's Big Island on May 6, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. Officials have confirmed 26 homes have now been destroyed by lava in Leilani Estates. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Evacuees fill out forms before being allowed to return to their Leilani Estates homes to gather belongings on May 6, 2018, near Pahoa, Hawaii. - The Kilauea Volcano, the most active in Hawaii, was highly unstable on May 6, 2018, as lava spouted into the air and fissures emitted deadly gases -- hazards that have forced thousands of people to evacuate. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A cyclist offers the Shaka sign, also known as 'Hang Loose' while riding past a plume of volcanis smoke in the distance over the area of Leilani Estates near the town of Pahoa on May 6, 2018, as authorities allowed evacuees to return to gather belongings and head back out on Hawaii's Big Island. - The Kilauea Volcano, the most active in Hawaii, was highly unstable on May 6, 2018, as lava spouted into the air and fissures emitted deadly gases -- hazards that have forced thousands of people to evacuate. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 05: Volunteers check a phone while setting up a tent to distribute goods to evacuees beside a roadblock near volcanic activity on Hawaii's Big Island on May 5, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. Many local residents are monitoring their phones for information. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 05: Evacuee Taylor Burns checks her phone in the emergency shelter where she is staying at the Pahoa Community Center on Hawaii's Big Island on May 5, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PAHOA, HI - MAY 05: Evacuees (L to R) Stacy Welch, Taylor Burns and Maddy Welch gather with their pet goose and dog outside the emergency shelter where they are staying at the Pahoa Community Center on Hawaii's Big Island on May 5, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. The three said they fled their home in vehicles in the early morning along with their pets after they saw lava approaching in the distance. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the island May 4 along with new eruptions from the Kilauea volcano. The volcano has spewed lava and high levels of sulfur gas into two nearby communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate in the area. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Dr. Tim Richards, a longtime veterinarian on the island and County Councilman checks on evacuee Andrew Linne's dog Scotty at the Pahoa Community Center in Pahoa on Hawaii's Big Island, May 5, 2018. - A magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, prompting fresh eruptions from a volcano that has been spewing lava near residential areas, forcing hundreds of people to flee. The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 12:32 pm (2232 GMT) and was centered on the south flank of the Kilauea Volcano. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Fred Lord, a resident of Black Sands near the Leilani Estates, relaxes at the Pahoa Community Center May 5, 2018 after after deciding to self-evacuate earlier in the day due to the nauseous fumes of sulphur at his residence. - A magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook Hawaii's Big Island on May 4, prompting fresh eruptions from a volcano that has been spewing lava near residential areas, forcing hundreds of people to flee. The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 12:32 pm (2232 GMT) and was centered on the south flank of the Kilauea Volcano. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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But by 1:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. EDT) reported ashfall was limited to only light, wet deposits about 3-4 miles (5-6 km) northwest of the summit, as rain over the volcano curbed the spread of ash.

Thursday's eruption lasted only a few minutes, said Coombs who called it "a big event that got people's attention, but did not have widespread impact."

"Tall but small," she said of Thursday's plume.

(Additional reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

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