It happens at dusk. It is when the Kawah Ijen volcano, located in the east of the island of Java, shows its most fascinating aspect. It is one of the 143 volcanoes that are active in the Indonesian archipelago. Its thousands of islands settle on one of the areas of the Earth with the highest seismic and volcanic activity. The Pacific Belt of Fire. And on that island is where you can see the blue fire that amazes the observers.
The blue fire volcano
The Kawah is a very unique volcano. As sunlight languishes, its slopes glow covered by a myriad of blue flames. They seem to advance along the slopes like incorporeal spectra. The flames glow constantly but are very dim and can only be distinguished in the dark. Its origin? Chemical reactions induced by certain physical circumstances.
The peculiarity of this volcano is the huge accumulation of sulfur that houses inside. A high percentage of this chemical element emerges in a liquid state and descends creating reddish rivers that solidify and crystallize in contact with the atmosphere. Thus, large blocks of intense yellow color originate. Another large part of sulfur, however, is ejected in the gaseous state.
The sulphurous gas is ejected in full combustion, wrapped in flames. Once outside, sulfur gases burn again in contact with oxygen. But as soon as the temperature drops, the gas liquefies and forms small rivers of liquid sulfur on which "bright" blue fires "sail". The hue is due to the presence of sulfur dioxide.
These flaming acidic rivers conclude their journey in the basin of a large acidic lake formed inside the crater. A hot and steaming lake, with an incredible opalescent turquoise tone.
Hundreds of miners work inside the crater. They collect heavy sulfur blocks without any mechanization or protection. ANDThey start working at three in the morning. They get paid about five cents for every kilo of sulfur. After years struggling in the mine, health is seriously damaged. Respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, back injuries, eye and throat irritation.
The Kawah Ijen has not erupted significantly since 1936. But in the last 40 years up to 74 miners have lost their lives. Frequent explosions suddenly release large sulfur clouds and flares up to five meters high.
But here there are no limits other than those that resist the «strong men of Java », which is what the locals call the miners. It is already generations that have found here a way to get ahead. The mineral is omnipresent in an endless number of industrial processes. Dynamite, matches, fertilizers, battery liquid, certain cosmetic products or in processes such as sugar bleaching. Kawah produces about five or six tons of sulfur daily.
It is not the only volcano where he has observed the blue fire. It is in the bowels of Dallol, in Ethiopia, and it has also been documented on the Aeolian island of Vulcano and Vesuvius.