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Unstoppable lava nears village on Big Island of Hawaii

Natalia Chambers peered around her house, about a mile from the leading edge of the lava flow that is threatening this rural town on the Big Island. She, her husband and their kindergarten son were in the process of moving the last load of their possessions to safety.

"Look at all of this stuff," she said of what remained behind. "This is a good time for people to shed their baggage. Do we really need all of this stuff?"

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Chambers was looking for a silver lining amid the clouds of bad air caused by lava that has been flowing from Kilauea volcano since the end of June.

According to officials from the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, the stream of molten rock was about 100 feet from a house and about 270 yards from Pahoa Village Road, the main street in the town of about 950 people.

The stream of lava was moving at about five to 10 yards per hour, officials said.

Perhaps as many as 50 structures are in the path of the lava, which burned a shed Tuesday.

Residents have had months to prepare for the lava's arrival. Officials have advised to prepare to evacuate, but no mandatory orders have been issued.

Many residents, like the Chambers, have moved valuables and furnishings elsewhere.

The Chambers' home is not in the direct path of the flow so is not expected to be destroyed. But it will probably be cut off by the flow.

Some residents watching the encroaching lava have taken pictures for insurance purposes or to gain some measure of closure as they expect their homes will be destroyed in the days ahead.

Firefighters are in the area but will not protect the houses hit by lava. Their main job will be to extinguish brush fires.

The Hawaii Department of Education began closing schools Wednesday and is expected to complete the shutdown by Thursday.

Follow @latimesmuskal for national news

Muskal reported from Los Angeles and Serafin from Pahoa.

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