Kīlauea Volcano is renowned for its relatively benign eruptions of fluid lava flows. Therefore, many people were surprised by the small explosions that occurred in Halema`uma`u Crater in 2008 and 2018, and even more surprised to learn that volcanic ash was being erupted from a new gas vent. However, ash emissions from Halema`uma`u Crater are part of the volcano's legacy.
Kīlauea's summit has erupted explosively throughout the history of the volcano, producing ash deposits that date back at least 30,000 years—and probably older.
In 1790, at least 80 people were killed in the Ka`ū Desert by searing hot gas and ash produced by a devastating explosion. In 1924, a series of steam explosions in Halema`uma`u Crater blasted columns of volcanic ash and dust as high as two miles (3 km) into the air. These plumes were blown downwind beyond the community of Pahala, 32 km (20 miles) away, where ash fallout turned day into night. Muddy ash also fell in lower Puna, making railroad tracks so slippery that trains couldn't travel in Maku`u. One person was killed near Halema`uma`u when he ventured too close to the vent and was hit by falling rocks.
On May 17 in 2018, an explosive eruption at the summit of Kilauea produced a volcanic cloud that reached as high as 30,000 feet above sea level.