Three tourists were injured in Iceland on Wednesday night as they hiked across rough terrain to a volcanic eruption that drew awed onlookers to its gushing fountains of red-hot lava, a spokeswoman for Iceland’s civil defense agency said.
The injuries, including a broken ankle, were not serious but they underscored the risks tourists face trying to hike to the lava flowing from Fagradalsfjall volcano in south-west Iceland, spokeswoman Hjordis Gudmundsdottir said in a statement interview on Thursday.
“We’re telling people that while we know it’s spectacular and there’s nothing like it, we have to be careful and be prepared before we go,” Ms Gudmundsdottir said.
The hike to and from the area, she said, takes about five hours and, since the volcano erupted last year, may involve crossing lava that’s still fragile and hot beneath the surface. Officials have also warned of a sudden gas pollution near the eruption site.
“We’re trying to tell people it’s not just a walk in the park,” Ms Gudmundsdottir said. “People have to be careful and wear good clothes and good shoes. That’s what we’re trying to say to both Icelanders and our foreign friends.”
The tourist with a broken ankle was taken to hospital by helicopter, Ms Gudmundsdottir said. The other two were helped off the volcano in vehicles, she said.
Ms Gudmundsdottir said she expects more tourists to arrive in the coming days, especially after dark when fiery lava can be seen against Iceland’s night sky.
“We don’t know how many people were there, but we know there are many and we know there will be more in the next few days,” she said. “We know we can’t say, ‘Stay away.’ We don’t cordon off the place.”
Lava began pouring out of a fissure in the ground around Fagradalsfjall near the town of Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula on Wednesday, the Icelandic government said in a statement. The eruption came after intense seismic activity over the past few days, the statement said.
The government said the outbreak was “relatively small” and posed little risk to populated areas and critical infrastructure. Fissure eruptions do not typically result in large explosions or significant columns of ash flying into the stratosphere, the statement said.
However, the government said it still advises people not to visit the site. The eruption site “is a dangerous area and conditions can change quickly,” the Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Management said in a statement Thursday.
It warned that toxic gas can accumulate when the winds ease, that new lava fountains can open without warning, and that accumulating lava can quickly flow across the ground.
The fissure is about nine miles from a major transport hub, Keflavik Airport, and about 16 miles from the Reykjavik metropolitan area, the government said.
“Since the series of earthquakes started last weekend, we have been expecting an eruption somewhere in this area,” Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s prime minister, said in a statement. “We will of course continue to monitor the situation closely and are now also benefiting from the experience of last year’s outbreak.”
There is a long history of volcanic activity in Iceland, which has more than 30 active volcanoes. The country spans two tectonic plates separated by an underwater mountain range that oozes molten hot rock, or magma. Quakes occur when magma pushes through the plates.
Keflavik Airport said on its website on Thursday that there had been no disruption to arriving or departing flights.
Icelandair also tried to reassure passengers that their flights had not been disrupted when promoting the volcanic eruption on Facebook, writing on Wednesday that “Iceland’s summer just got hotter!” It included a link to a live stream of the eruption site.