Three tourists were injured in Iceland on Wednesday night when they hiked over rugged terrain to an erupting volcano that draws awe-struck onlookers to the gushing fountains of glowing lava, a spokeswoman for Iceland’s civil protection agency said.
The injuries, including a broken ankle, were not serious, but they underscored the risks tourists face if they try to hike to the lava flowing from Fagradalsfjall volcano in southwest Iceland, the spokeswoman, Hjordis Gudmundsdottir, said in an interview 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 trip to and from the site, she said, takes about five hours, and since the volcano erupted last year, it may involve crossing lava that is still fragile and hot below the surface. Officials have also warned of sudden gas contamination near the eruption site.
“We’re trying to tell people it’s not just a walk in the park,” Gudmundsdottir said. “People need to be careful and wear good clothes and good shoes. We try to tell that to both Icelanders and our foreign friends.”
The tourist with a broken ankle was transported by helicopter to hospital, said Gudmundsdottir. The other two were helped off the volcano in vehicles, she said.
Gudmundsdottir said she expects more tourists to arrive in the coming days, especially after dark, when the burning lava stands against Iceland’s night sky.
“We don’t know how many people have been there, but we know there are many, and we know that in the next few days there will be more,” she said. “We know we can’t say, ‘Stay away.’ We’re not locking the place down.”
The lava began flowing Wednesday from a 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 in recent days, the statement says.
The government said the outbreak 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 plumes of ash flying into the stratosphere, the statement said.
But the government said it was still advising people not to visit the site. The outbreak site “is a dangerous area and conditions can change quickly,” the Ministry of Civil Protection and Emergency Management said in a statement on Thursday.
It warned that toxic gas could accumulate as winds die down, that new lava fountains could open with little warning and that accumulating lava could flow rapidly over the ground.
The fissure is about nine miles from a major transportation hub, Keflavik Airport, and about 26 miles from the Reykjavik metropolitan area, the government said.
“We have been expecting an eruption somewhere in this area since the series of earthquakes started last weekend,” Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s prime minister, said in a statement. “We will, of course, continue to monitor the situation closely, and now we are also benefiting from the experiences from last year’s outbreak.”
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 range oozing with molten hot rock, or magma. Earthquakes occur when magma pushes through the plates.
Keflavik Airport said on its website on Thursday that there were no disruptions to arriving or departing flights.
Icelandair also sought to reassure passengers that their flights had not been disrupted as they promoted the 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.