Three tourists were injured in Iceland on Wednesday night as they trekked across rough terrain to a volcanic eruption drawing awe-struck onlookers to its sputtering fountains of red-hot lava, a spokesperson for Iceland’s civil protection agency said.
The injuries, including a broken ankle, were not serious, but they underscored the risks that tourists face trying to hike to the lava flowing from the Fagradalsfjall volcano in southwest Iceland, the spokeswoman, Hjordis Gudmundsdottir, said Thursday.
“We tell people that, even though we know it’s spectacular and there’s nothing like it, we have to be careful, and we have to be prepared before we go,” 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 is still fragile and hot beneath the surface. Officials have also warned of sudden gas pollution near the eruption site.
“We are trying to tell people it’s not just a walk in the park,” Gudmundsdottir said. “People have to be careful and in good clothes and good shoes. We are trying to tell that to both Icelanders and our foreign friends.”
The tourist with a broken ankle was taken by helicopter to a hospital, Gudmundsdottir said. The other two were helped off the volcano in vehicles, she said.
Gudmundsdottir said she expected more tourists to arrive in the coming days, especially after dark, when the fiery lava can be seen against Iceland’s night sky.
“We don’t know how many people have been there, but we know it is many, and we know the next days, it will be more,” she said. “We know we can’t say, ‘Stay away.’ We are not locking the place.”
The lava began flowing Wednesday from a ground fissure around Fagradalsfjall, near the town of Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the Icelandic government said in a statement. The eruption came after intense seismic activity over the last several days, the statement said.
The government said that the eruption was considered to be “relatively small” and that the risk to populated areas and critical infrastructure was low. Fissure eruptions do not usually result in large explosions or significant columns of ash flying into the stratosphere, the statement said.
But the government said it was still advising people not to visit the site. The eruption site “is a dangerous area and conditions can change quickly,” the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management said in a statement Thursday.
It warned that toxic gas can accumulate when the wind decreases, that new lava fountains can open with little warning and that accumulating lava can flow quickly across the ground.
The fissure is about 9 miles from a major transportation hub, Keflavik Airport, and about 16 miles from the Reykjavik metropolitan area, the government said.
“We’ve been expecting an eruption somewhere in this area since the series of earthquakes started last weekend,” said Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s prime minister. “We will, of course, continue to monitor the situation closely and now we also benefit from the experience gained from last year’s eruption.”
There is a long history of volcanic activity in Iceland, which has more than 30 active volcanoes. The country straddles two tectonic plates, which are divided by an undersea mountain chain that oozes molten hot rock, or magma. Quakes occur when the magma pushes through the plates.
Keflavik Airport said on its website Thursday that there were no disruptions to arriving or departing flights.
Icelandair also sought to reassure passengers that its flights had not been disrupted as it promoted the volcanic eruption on Facebook, writing Wednesday that “Iceland’s summer just got hotter!” It included a link to a livestream of the eruption site.