A couple of weeks ago, Steve Hill’s family packed up their furniture and valuables and left their property on Hawaii’s Big Island for the mainland.
On their deck, the Hill family left a single shot of gin for Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes – convinced the lava erupting from fissures in the area would consume their slice of paradise, where Hill had built two homes.
“We left feeling heartbroken, like, ‘Our homes are gone. This is not going to survive,’” Hill remembered thinking. But the homes are still there today, thanks to the efforts of Hill’s close friend and building contractor, Darryl Clinton.
Clinton stayed behind and volunteered to protect the homes from violently erupting volcanic fissures just a stone’s throw from the property. Armed with little more than a garden house, he doused lava bombs as they bombarded the property, destroying windows, crashing through the roof and igniting parts of the house. All the while, Clinton kept both homes from going up in flames.
CNN was there to see his efforts firsthand – as lava bombs were fired in every direction. Clinton seemed to have the volcano figured out. He knew which terrestrial groans, or explosions to ignore, and which ones meant “take cover.”
Hill said he was humbled by Clinton’s efforts. “This is the Hawaiian way,” he said. “You take care of each other.”
Last week, Hill pleaded with Clinton to leave the homes and let them burn. The onslaught of molten lava bombs seemed unstoppable, and Darryl’s task seemed far too dangerous.
But Clinton didn’t listen. The next day, while he was standing on Hill’s top deck when a lava bomb the size of a bowling ball flew through the air like a line drive and hit Clinton with such force that it snapped the bones in his leg.
“It just took my leg out and threw me against the wall, the most extreme force I’ve ever felt in my life,” Clinton told CNN from his hospital bed in Hilo, Hawaii.
Part of the porch and a dining set quickly went up in flames. Luckily, a quick-thinking neighbor was able to extinguish the fire with a jug of water, while Clinton’s ex-wife frantically drove him away to meet an ambulance.
Both Clinton and the two homes he was protecting are in rough shape – but both survived for now. Hill credits Clinton, Clinton’s ex-wife Lisa Roach and other neighbors with keeping the property safe.
Today, the fissure is still actively spewing lava, though it’s weakened and the house no longer seems within range. Craters and massive chunks of black lava litter the property, there are burns marks on the floors, and even several holes in the roof of one home, but Hill knows he – along with Clinton, when he’s healed up – will be able to rebuild.
“This place stands because Darryl chose not to go home,” Hill said. “It stands because he believed he could save it, and that’s it.”
Clinton has had at least three surgeries already and is currently in Honolulu for another. He will be off his feet for weeks at least, but he doesn’t regret his choice to stay to protect the homes.
“It didn’t seem like enough of a risk to warrant letting the houses burn down,” he said. “Provided this (injury) didn’t happen I’d do it all over again.”
Hill said he would do anything within his means to help Clinton’s recovery. “We’re going to take care of our friend,” he said. A GoFundMe page setup for Clinton has already raised more than $3,000 towards his recovery.
“He is a beautiful person,” Hill said. “He is just a hell of an amazing guy.”
CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.