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What it’s like to operate CNN’s ‘Lava Cam’

The view from behind CNN's Lava Cam.

Editor’s note: Like many forces of nature, the lava and smoke spewing from fissures near Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano hold a terrible and mesmerizing beauty.

Since Tuesday morning, CNN photojournalist Jordan Guzzardo has been in the thick of it, operating what volcano watchers have dubbed CNN’s “Lava Cam.” The live feed is an up-close look at the constant, red-hot belches bursting from cracks near the town of Pahoa, on the eastern coast of the Big Island. It’s an exhilarating — and dangerous — job.

Here’s what Guzzardo says the last 36 hours has been like.

The camera is a mile from the lava, but it doesn’t seem that far away

We’re about a mile away from the shot you see on the live feed, at a resident’s house. Our vantage point is, basically, we’re sitting on a porch. The shot that you guys are all seeing, I’m zoomed in with my telephoto lens on my camera and I’ve just been keeping that shot up for almost two days now.

The area we’re in is residential, and you have to be a resident to get in. I’m alone right now and have been since Tuesday afternoon, but before that there was a team of a few people that joined me. We met at a church and the resident picked us up, and we went through two police checkpoints. They seem to be getting stricter on who is let in and why.

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano: Live updates

It’s not hot, but the sounds are a little scary

I have to say, the lava is very impressive to the human eye even though you’re far away from it. There’s a glow, a bright orange glow. It’s reflecting off of the clouds, and that is literally casting this orange glow on the house and on the front yard. It’s very eerie. It’s something that I’ve never encountered before.

Since we’re a mile away and we’re on the coast, it’s not hot. I’m wearing a sweatshirt right now. At the house we’re shooting from, there’s a balcony that’s covered, so we’re basically safe from the elements. We have chickens roaming around the property, and there’s a horse. I’m not sure who’s horse it is, because it doesn’t belong to the residents here, but it eats the chicken feed and keeps visiting me [chickens crow loudly in the background].

The sounds I’ve been hearing from the shot people are seeing — the continual spewing lava — it sounds like running water from afar. Almost like a waterfall. But there is another site, closer to the house and to my left, and a while ago it was going off every 20 minutes or so. It sounds like a jet engine or a cannon blast. It’s from all the pressure of the lava. It keeps going off, and it’s unnerving.

There’s no immediate danger, but things could change rapidly

Where we’re positioned, the plume of smoke, it’s all pushing away from me and out towards the ocean. In fact, I can see some of the lava flowing down into the ocean from where I am.

People may make the assumption that the area would smell like sulfur, but it doesn’t. I’ve been in New Zealand, and there’s a section of the north island there with a lot of volcano activity, and you can smell the sulfur. But here, really, there’s no particular smell. I’ve been told that if we were to smell something, that would be a problem, and we’d have to leave. I have a gas mask handy, just in case.

I had no idea I would be covering an active volcano this week. That’s what’s so attractive about my job — you never know where you are going to end up. To have an opportunity to man this camera and send out this kind of image to millions of people, and see this lava flow firsthand, it’s amazing.