Eruption Site Open and Wildfires Quelled

litli hrútur 2023

The eruption site on Reykjanes is open to visitors today and firefighters have managed to subdue the wildfires that have been raging at the site. Hiking routes to the eruption were closed yesterday evening due to poor visibility. The eruption began on July 10, the third volcanic eruption in the same area of Reykjanes in three years.

No serious incidents were reported from the eruption site last night, though some exhausted hikers needed help returning from the site. The hike is around 20 km round trip across uneven terrain and requires appropriate preparation and gear.

Wildfires no longer a threat

The eruption had set off wildfires in the moss surrounding the site, but firefighting efforts have proven successful in subduing them, Einar Sveinn Jónsson, Chief of the Grindavík Fire Department, told RÚV. “If there is any more fire, then it’s a very small amount that we can absolutely handle,” he stated. The wildfires on the Reykjanes peninsula have been the largest-ever since records began, according to a recent report by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.

Rangers needed

The Environment Agency has received 29 applications from would-be rangers interesting in supervising the eruption site. The application deadline is tomorrow, Friday, and the Environment Agency encourages those with ranger certification to apply. Staffing the required positions may prove challenging as summer is the high season for tourism, and most certified rangers have already been stationed elsewhere in the country.

Read more about how to access the 2023 Reykjanes eruption.

Firefighters Fought Wildfires Near Eruption Site Until 2 AM

iceland volcano 2023

Firefighters worked until 2 AM extinguishing wildfires that have arisen as a result of the eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula. A fire marshall with the Grindavík Fire Brigade told RÚV that there was plenty of work to be done today.

Managed to extinguish small fires near the trail

Firefighters worked to extinguish wildfires in the vicinity of the eruption site at Litli-Hrútur until 2 AM. Daníel Karlsson, Duty Officer with the Grindavík Fire Brigade, told Mbl.is this morning that the firefighting had gone well: “It went well. We managed to put out the smaller fire near the trail to the eruption site.”

According to Daníel, preparations for the day’s firefighting began at 8 AM.

Thick blue smoke covers the hiking trail

Einar Sveinn Jónsson, Fire Marshall with the Grindavík Brigade, is among those who have fought the wildfires near the eruption site. Einar told RÚV this morning that the outlook had often been rosier and that there was a significant amount of smoke.

“Naturally, it’s quite windy, so the smoke covers the trail. Thick, blue smoke from the wildfires blow through the final 2-3 kilometres of the trail, which makes it completely impossible to hike the trail. It is barely passable by car, due to pollution; you can hardly see.”

Einar told RÚV that the firefighting last night and into the early hours of today went well: “But there’s quite a bit of work left. Today’s task will probably be challenging, considering the amount of pollution. But it hasn’t gotten so bad that we have to stop.”

Eruption Site Closed Due to Gas and Wildfire Pollution

Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra. The eruption on Reykjanes, July 10, 2023

The Suðurnes Chief of Police has decided to close the active eruption site on Reykjanes due to dangerous pollution levels from wildfires as well as the eruption itself. The site will be closed until Saturday, when authorities will review whether conditions have changed. The eruption is significantly stronger than the 2021 and 2022 eruptions at the same site and has been producing significant gas pollution and set off wildfires in the surrounding vegetation.

Some enter site despite warnings

In a written statement, the chief of police said the safety of people entering the site could not be ensured in the current conditions. The prevailing winds are now blowing the gas pollution from the eruption along the hiking route, and smoke pollution from wildfires is adding to the danger. Nevertheless, some travellers have ignored the warnings of first responders and have entered the site.

The eruption began on Monday, July 10 and so far only minor injuries have been reported from the site, such as twisted ankles and exhaustion. However, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, Communications Director for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management stated that visitors’ behaviour was not exemplary yesterday. “It’s just a matter of time before something serious happens,” she told RÚV.

Worse pollution than 2021 and 2022 eruptions

The air quality at the current eruption site is much worse than at the 2021 and 2022 eruptions, according to Vísir. This is in part due to the wildfire smoke. “We see that the smoke from wildfires is spreading over a large area,” Gunnar Guðmundsson, lung specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Iceland, told mbl.is. “When vegetations burns, small soot particles form in the smoke, so the smoke can be very irritating to the eyes and respiratory system.”

The smoke is mostly a risk for hikers at the site and residents of the Suðurnes peninsula need not be concerned, Gunnar stated. He did encourage those with sensitivities, such as asthma, to show caution and use medication when necessary.