The Eldfell volcano is part of the Vestmannaeyjar system of underwater volcanoes in southern Iceland. Eldfell is located on Heimaey Island, one of the few inhabited Icelandic islands. This fissure-vent volcano rises 915 feet above sea level and is the highest point on Heimaey Island. As of July 2014, the last time the volcano erupted was in 1973.
This system of volcanoes has erupted 10 times in the past 10,000 years. Many of these eruptions occurred underwater, eventually creating many of the islands in southern Iceland.
During the eruption of 1973, a fissure formed on top of the volcano that was almost a mile long. The eruption lasted nearly five months, destroyed 400 buildings and damaged 400 others. The remnants of the volcano increased Heimaey's size by 0.85 square miles. The cleanup process took two years, and the leftover materials were used to widen Heimaey's airstrip.
All of the island's residents were evacuated by fishing boats as soon as the 1973 eruption began. Residents attempted to save structures on the island by pumping cold seawater onto lava flows using 40 massive pumps. As of July 2014, this marked the largest operation to try to stop the advance of lava in human history.