Eldfell is a composite volcanic cone just over 200 metres (660 ft) high on the Icelandic island of Heimaey. It formed in a volcanic eruption which began without warning just outside the town of Heimaey on 23 January 1973. Its name means Mountain of Fire in Icelandic.
The eruption caused a major crisis for the island and nearly led to its permanent evacuation. Volcanic ash fell over most of the island, destroying many houses, and a lava flow threatened to close off the harbour, the island’s main income source via its fishing fleet. An operation was mounted to cool the advancing lava flow by pumping sea water onto it, which was successful in preventing the loss of the harbour.
After the eruption finished, the islanders used heat from the slowly cooling lava flows to provide hot water and to generate electricity. They also used some of the extensive tephra, fall-out of airborne volcanic material, to extend the runway at the island’s small airport, and as landfill, on which 200 new houses were built.
A fascinating extract from the ITV documentary “Savage Earth” first broadcast in the 1990s. Surtsey was the island born from an underwater volcanic eruption off the south coast of Iceland in 1963. Haemay was the small town on the Westmann islands, south of Iceland, which was awoken one night in 1973 to find its volcano had burst into life. The townsfolk fought the advancing lava with high pressure hoses and managed to turn it away from their harbour.